It is surprisingly easy to leave yourself open to claims of Greenwashing!

Spinning wind power

Photo credit Doxi

Companies need to take a lot of care when making Green claims. The whole Green energy space is massively complex and it is surprisingly easy to leave yourself open to claims of Greenwashing.

What do I mean?

Well, take the Irish energy sector, for example. Anyone who generates electricity in Ireland, which is to be distributed on the grid, is required to sell that power into the wholesale pool – the Single Energy Market (SEM).

Then any retailer who wishes to sell that power to businesses or residential customers, buys the electricity from the pool and sells to their customer base.

Now if you are grid connected in Ireland for your electricity supply (as most organisations are) you get your power from this pool.

Can you see where I am going with this?

Most electricity companies in Ireland do generation as well as retail. Some of them have a significant portfolio of renewable resources (chiefly wind). However, because of the structure of the market, they can’t sell this power directly to consumers, it has to go to the SEM pool first.

When the electricity retailers sell electricity, they have to purchase it from the SEM pool to sell to their customers. Because all electricity sold in Ireland comes from the same SEM pool, everyone has the same percentage of renewables in their supply (unless they have a private supply).

What this means in effect is that you can’t selectively buy renewable electricity in Ireland.

If you see companies saying that their Irish operations are “running on almost 90 percent wind power”, for example, they are either ill-informed, or they are Greenwashing.

If you can’t selectively purchase renewable electricity, what can you do to reduce the carbon footprint of your energy consumption?

Well, the best thing to do then would be to move your loads to times when the percentage of renewable sources in the pool is highest! Any company committing to doing that would be making a bona fide Green statement.

Friday Morning Green Numbers round-up 03/26/2010

Green numbers

Photo credit Unhindered by Talent

Here is this Friday’s Green Numbers round-up:

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Is there really any need for baseload power?

No nuclear waste

Photo credit wonderferret

The electricity grid may not need “baseload” generation sources like coal and nuclear to backup the variability of supply from renewables.

Jon Wellinghof is the Chairman of the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). FERC is an independent agency that amongst other things, regulates the interstate transmission of electricity, natural gas, and oil – for more on FERC’s responsibilities see their About page. Chairman Wellinghoff has been involved in the energy industry for 30 years and appointed to the FERC as a commissioner by then president Bush in 2006.

Last year, shortly after being appointed as Chairman of the FERC, Mr Wellinghoff announced that:

No new nuclear or coal plants may ever be needed in the United States….

Wellinghoff said renewables like wind, solar and biomass will provide enough energy to meet baseload capacity and future energy demands. Nuclear and coal plants are too expensive, he added.

“I think baseload capacity is going to become an anachronism,” he said. “Baseload capacity really used to only mean in an economic dispatch, which you dispatch first, what would be the cheapest thing to do. Well, ultimately wind’s going to be the cheapest thing to do, so you’ll dispatch that first.”…

“What you have to do, is you have to be able to shape it,” he added. “And if you can shape wind and you can effectively get capacity available for you for all your loads.

“So if you can shape your renewables, you don’t need fossil fuel or nuclear plants to run all the time. And, in fact, most plants running all the time in your system are an impediment because they’re very inflexible. You can’t ramp up and ramp down a nuclear plant. And if you have instead the ability to ramp up and ramp down loads in ways that can shape the entire system, then the old concept of baseload becomes an anachronism.”

This was quite an unusual contention at the time (and still is) and despite the Chairman’s many years working in the sector it was, by and large, ignored – even by the administration who had appointed him to the Chairmanship. In fact, the Obama administration has since announced financial backing for new nuclear power plants.

However, a study published last week by the Maryland-based Institute for Energy and Environmental Research backs Chairman Wellinghoff’s assertion. In a study of North Carolina’s electricity needs it concluded backup generation requirements would be modest for a system based largely on solar and wind power, combined with efficiency, hydroelectric power, and other renewable sources like landfill gas:

“Even though the wind does not blow nor the sun shine all the time, careful management, readily available storage and other renewable sources, can produce nearly all the electricity North Carolinians consume,” explained Dr. John Blackburn, the study’s author. Dr. Blackburn is Professor Emeritus of Economics and former Chancellor at Duke University.

“Critics of renewable power point out that solar and wind sources are intermittent,” Dr. Blackburn continued. “The truth is that solar and wind are complementary in North Carolina. Wind speeds are usually higher at night than in the daytime. They also blow faster in winter than summer. Solar generation, on the other hand, takes place in the daytime. Sunlight is only half as strong in winter as in summertime. Drawing wind power from different areas — the coast, mountains, the sounds or the ocean — reduces variations in generation. Using wind and solar in tandem is even more reliable. Together, they can generate three-fourths of the state’s electricity. When hydroelectric and other renewable sources are added, the gap to be filled is surprisingly small. Only six percent of North Carolina’s electricity would have to come from conventional power plants or from other systems.”

With larger and more inter-connected electricity grids, the requirement for baseload falls even further because the greater the geographical spread of your grid, the greater the chances that the wind will be blowing or the sun shining in some parts of it.

So, is there really any need for baseload power any more, or is this now just a myth perpetuated by those with vested interests?

Energy & Sustainability show for March 8th

We had a great Energy and Sustainability show yesterday. In case you missed it, here is the recording and the chatstream is below:

Tom Raftery :
Ok, kicking off the show this Mon 8th March in 1 minute
And we’re live – hope you can all see and hear me

Mon, 8 Mar, 16:32
paul savage :

good afternoon Tom[sound is good]

Mon, 8 Mar, 16:33
Tom Raftery :

http://blogs.msdn.com/see/archive/2010/03/02/microsoft-s-position-on-the-u-s-chamber-of-commerce-climate-related-activities.aspx
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8550504.stm
http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2010/mar/07/edf-nuclear-reactor-chernobyl-risk
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100304142240.htm
http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2010/03/arctic-methane-on-the-move/
http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2010/03/04/states-sue-epa-global-warming-ruling/
http://www.ceres.org/Page.aspx?pid=1221
http://www.climatebiz.com/news/2010/03/04/tesco-nestle-uk-packaging-cuts
http://greenopolis.com/goblog/joe-laur/team-shambhala-nike-s-journey-wasted-reputation-corporate-responsibility-icon
http://solveclimate.com/blog/20100304/veterans-launch-powerful-clean-energy-ad-tying-foreign-oil-troop-deaths
http://greeninc.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/03/05/setting-wind-power-records-in-texas/
http://greenmonk.net/spain-gets-53-of-its-energy-from-wind/

Mon, 8 Mar, 16:52
Ian B :

Perhaps TX should expend less suing EPA?

Mon, 8 Mar, 16:53
Tom Raftery :

http://cleantech.com/news/5661/paper-battery-co-hints-about-tech
http://news.stanford.edu/news/2009/december7/nanotubes-ink-paper-120709.html
http://www.ecofriend.org/entry/mit-researchers-produce-electricity-from-carbon-nanotubes/
http://www.greenfudge.org/2010/03/07/australian-police-search-sea-shepherd-vessels/
http://environment.change.org/blog/view/head_of_the_epa_speaks_to_changeorg_lets_change_the_face_of_environmentalism
http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/showbiz/film/2880779/Oscars-week-The-real-life-story-like-that-in-Avatar.html
http://www.hp.com/hpinfo/newsroom/press/2010/100302a.html?mtxs=rss-corp-gcnews
http://www-03.ibm.com/press/us/en/pressrelease/29595.wss
http://greatindiansale.blogspot.com/2010/03/google-guerillas.html

Mon, 8 Mar, 17:00
paul savage :

don’t forget your call…

Mon, 8 Mar, 17:01
mikethebee :

Thx Tom, good one as usual.

Mon, 8 Mar, 17:02
Ian B :

Thanks Tom

Mon, 8 Mar, 17:02
paul savage :

All the best Tom.

Mon, 8 Mar, 17:02
Tom Raftery :

Thanks everyone

Mon, 8 Mar, 17:04
Ian B :

BTW – couldn’t get chat working in IE8 – must have objected to your MS story!

Green Numbers round-up 12/18/2009

Green Numbers

Photo credit MildlyDiverting

Welcome to this Friday’s Green numbers round-up!

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Renewable energy supply and demand

Supply and demand

Photo credit Milton CJ

I ReTweeted a couple of posts yesterday from HP’s Ed Gemmell. The posts from Ed were some data about HP’s use of renewable energy in various EU countries. The retweets were:

  • RT @EdGemmell: HP Ireland running on 50% wind power saving 27,000 tonnes CO2
  • RT @EdGemmell: HP in Italy has been running on 100% hydro since Jan09 saving 15,000 CO2 PA
  • RT @EdGemmell: HP in UK has been running on 100% hydro since Feb09 saving 46,000 tonnes CO2 PA and
  • RT @EdGemmell: HP in Germany has been running on 100% hydro since Jan09 saving 37,000 tonnes CO2 per year

Some nice data there and kudos to HP.

Another Twitter user, Thomas Bjelkman replied very quickly with the following response:

@TomRaftery Re HP and hydropower. If the energy mix in the market is the same then the CO2 has only moved from one customer to another.

And, to an extent he is correct. If suppliers in a market generate 200gWh for example, 50% of which is from renewables then you have 100gWh of renewable energy to go around. One co. preferentially buying 10gWh means by definition that there is less renewable energy (100gWh – 10gWh = 90gWh) to go around for others.

However, the flipside is that if companies are preferentially purchasing/looking to purchase renewable energy, this increases demand in the market. And an increased demand signal invariably leads to an increased supply (as suppliers see more demand, it makes sense to invest in more renewable generation to meet the demand).

So, companies who favour renewable energy (and especially if they publish targets to increase the amount of renewables they are purchasing) are de facto helping to increase the penetration of green power on the grid.

More of it, I say.

The cheaper the electricity the lower its carbon footprint!

Supply and demand

Photo Credit Milton CJ

I was speaking at the EventoBlog España conference on Saturday and I made the comment that electricity’s carbon footprint tends to increase as it becomes more expensive.

In follow-up questions, I failed to explain well what I meant so I will attempt to do so here.

Electricity pricing (on the wholesale market) is a function of supply and demand. When demand is high, electricity is expensive, when demand is low, electricity is typically cheap.

For weather based renewables (wind, solar, wave) – they produce power completely independently of the price of electricity, so they produce the same amount whether electricity is cheap or expensive.

Since weather based renewables are on average a constant percentage then they tend to have a higher slice of the market when electricity is in low demand/cheaper.

In other words, weather based renewables are independent of demand, therefore at times of low demand, they have a higher share of the market. This is even more so the case for wind which tends to blow more at night when demand is lower.

As there is a definite correlation between low demand and low price, it can be said by extension that the cheaper the electricity, the lower its carbon footprint!

The financial markets might be in trouble but renewables are seeing boom times!

renewable energy

Photo Credit pseudorlaya

A couple of interesting announcements were made in Ireland in the last week.

On the 8th of Oct., Eirgrid, the Irish grid operator launched their Grid25 strategy (pdf warning). In the strategy document they announced they are spending €4 billion reinforcing the Irish distribution grid in the expectation of a 60% rise in electricity usage.

The Irish Environment Minister, John Gormley in his Carbon Budget announced that the Irish government is going to target that 40% of electricity consumed in Ireland would be from renewable sources by 2020. This is an increase over the previously stated, already ambitious target, of 33% from renewables.

Ireland had an average electrical demand of 3.2GW in 2007. A 60% increase means an average consumption of 5GW by 2025 and an average of 4.5GW in 2020. This is the date the government has set as its target of 40% from renewables.

40% of 4.5GW means that Ireland will average 1.8GW from renewables in 2020. Assuming that this will come from wind (there is no other viable renewable energy source in Ireland), this will require 5.4GW of installed wind capacity.

Ireland currently has 1GW of installed wind capacity so to hit the target it needs 4.4GW of wind farms to be built.

That’s 366MW per annum or just over 1MW every day until 2020! A 1MW wind turbine would be a significant structure costing in excess of €1m.

So the Irish government has set as a target the sourcing of 1MW extra from wind energy every day for the next 12 years?

I also spotted today that StrategyEye in their new quarterly report are reporting that investment in the Cleantech sector is up 50% this quarter, compared to the first quarter of 2008.

The financial markets might be in trouble but renewables are definitely seeing boom times!

Is micro (home) generation of electricity good for the environment?

Home solar
Photo Credit benefit of hindsight

Microgeneration, the generation of electricity by home owners, is becoming increasingly common, especially with the cost of energy going up and the cost of wind turbines and photovoltaic panels for the home falling.

The majority of people deploying these solutions are doing so to 1) lower their home energy bills and 2) to help the environment.

What if I told you that often installing microgeneration equipment does not help the environment?

Bear with me while I try to explain. This is complex, counter-intuitive and I am not the world’s best communicator!

Grid operators have problems integrating renewable energy sources onto the grid right now because they are a variable source of supply. Couple that with the variability of demand and your grid starts to become increasingly unstable.

By far the most economic renewable energy source currently is wind but wind energy’s supply curve is often almost completely out of phase with demand (wind blows stronger at night when there is least demand for energy).

The more renewables that are brought onto the grid, the greater an issue this becomes with grid operators having to shut down production from wind farms in times of oversupply! Bear in mind also that there has to be enough generation capacity from non-wind sources (oil, gas, coal, nuclear, etc.) to pick up the slack on days when the wind doesn’t blow.

In times of oversupply from renewables, it would be far preferable to be ramping up consumption of energy using moveable loads, rather than shutting down production from renewables.

Now consider the home-owner who has deployed their own wind turbine. At times when the wind is blowing this home-owner is generating power thereby reducing their demand just when there is an oversupply on the grid! And if they have a net metering agreement with their utility, they further exacerbate the problem by pumping extra electricity into the grid, just when it isn’t required!

Conversely, on calm days, when extra energy is most needed, micro-generation contributes nothing.

There are two main problems:
1. There are no economic energy storage technologies currently available – though this situation is evolving rapidly with the ramping up of investment into battery research by the transportation industry in particular and
2. Real-time pricing data for electricity generation are not exposed to the consumer – if they were, and automated demand response mechanisms were put in place, you would see a radical shift in the energy consumption curve (people would consume energy when it was cheaper – i.e. when it is abundant).

If these two nuts were cracked i.e. economic energy storage mechanisms were available and real-time pricing data were exposed, micro-generators could generate energy when the wind blows, store it and then profitably sell it back to the grid when demand increases, or the wind drops.

For now though, while microgeneration may be beneficial in reducing your energy bills, it is of no benefit to the environment.

Note that I didn’t address CHP in this post because I was trying to keep things simple! CHP can be beneficial, as can any microgeneration, if the production of energy increases in line with the price of electricity.

As the price of electricity goes up, so too does its carbon footprint. If you consume electricity when it is cheap, you are facilitating the greater penetration of renewables onto the grid. If, as a micro-generator, you can produce clean power when electricity is expensive, then you are helping the environment.

UPDATE: Just to clarify, I fundamentally believe microgeneration is a good thing. However, given the current antiquated state of the grid in many countries, the disconnect between generation and demand profiles for wind particularly, and the lack of decent energy storage technologies, the environmental benefits of microgeneration are far from straightforward. This will change as energy storage options improve and demand response mechanisms and smart grids are deployed.

Why don’t we already have a real time market for electricity?

Supply and Demand
Photo Credit whatnot

If Demand Response is such a good idea and will help get more renewables onto the grid, why isn’t it being embraced by the grid management companies?

Most grid management companies have been in business for decades managing a grid in which the supply is manageable and the demand is variable but reasonably predictable – typically daily demand is “this day last year +2.5%”!

Now grid management companies are faced with a situation where an increasing percentage of their supply is coming from variable sources (i.e. wind) – if the wind blows more than anticipated, too much electricity is generated and if it blows less than anticipated, the converse is true. This totally messes up their planning and consequently grid management companies hate wind, and think of it as unpredictable, negative demand!

Instead of having such a negative attitude to renewables and shutting them down in favour of fossil fuels they should be asking how can we facilitate the greater penetration of clean renewable energy sources onto the grid.

In the coming years, the demand for electricity will increase significantly as transportation goes more electric (electric and plug-in electric cars, bikes, trucks, etc.) and as heating moves more to electricity. This will add demand to the grid system but this increased demand is eminently movable – for the most part you don’t care if your car re-charges at 7pm or 4am as long as it is re-charged when you want to leave for work at 8am. Similarly with heating, if you use storage heaters (and they will become more common) you don’t care when they suck in the heat as long as they heat the house the following day.

If you can move the demand to a time when traditionally the requirement for electricity was low, you can deliver it over the same infrastructure, thereby selling significantly more electricity without having to massively upgrade the network.

The upshot of this is that an increasing movable demand (the ability to time shift consumption) should be a strong business case for a real-time electricity market. Let demand be guided by supply (as indicated by price). With a real time market for electricity you need never shut down wind farms in favour of fossil fuels, you sell more electricity and you enable a greater penetration of renewables onto the grid. Win, win, win.

Why hasn’t this happened already? Ask your local grid management company.