SEI’s Solar energy training impacts projects around the world

Lessons learned at Solar Energy International (SEI) can be life-changing for students who take our solar energy training both online and in-person at our campus in Paonia, Colorado. In the case of SEI alum, Estevan Figueroa, the impact of SEI classes will spread across the world as he takes what he learned in PV301L: Solar Electric Lab Week (Battery-Based) to Uganda.

Estevan traveled to SEI’s campus in Paonia, Colorado in October for solar energy training in battery-based Photovoltaics (PV). Estevan works with a non-profit, Africa Development Promise, which, “moves women farmers from food for subsistence to food for business using the cooperative model of enterprise. To promote economic empowerment, [they] have adopted a multi-faceted approach to address the concerns of women farmers.  Chief among them is access to sustainable and affordable water and electricity.”

Formerly involved in the oil and gas industry, Estevan accrued years of OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) training. He got his start in non-profits around 8 years ago as an event coordinator. It was a combination of his OSHA training, non-profit experience and interest in solar that poised him to join the Africa Development Promise team in their mission to install ‘solar kiosks’ in addition to other initiatives in the Wakiso District in Uganda.

In January, Estevan will travel to Uganda for two years to act as a project coordinator and safety inspector for Africa Development Promise. Estevan is currently interning with Utah-based Beautifi Solar, an installation company donating equipment and overseeing the initial design of PV that will go on the ‘solar kiosks.’

According to Estevan, kiosks will be “education stations” for the community. Basic structures in the region have already been build at cooperatives established by Africa Development Promise. At each cooperative there is a greenhouse with a DC (direct-current) water pumping application. The kiosks will add a power station for people to charge their house batteries, used for emergencies, that typically take a costly commute of 12-20 miles to charge. Kiosks will include wifi and a hub for renting tools. There will be a designated person renting out the tools, trained in OSHA standards by Estevan, who will be able to provide guidance. “The next step is teaching about how to maintain the PV systems next year or the year after that,” Estevan said.

Additionally, Estevan shared one more aspect of the solar kiosks, “One of the other things that I think is really cool about these systems is not only will we have the tools and the training and the means of powering the batteries,” Estevan said, “but I love an ice, cold beverage. Something that’s so minute for us here, but in the villages where we will be working, some of the people have never had the opportunity to have a cold beverage. So we’re going to have a fridge there when you come to charge your battery or rent some tools, or if you’re just using the internet for a while, you can get one free beverage.”

Aligning with Africa Development Promise’s mission, the kiosks as a source of wifi, will also give the opportunity for the village to market and sell their agricultural products with the help of the internet.

When Estevan leaves at the beginning of January for Uganda, with the structures already in place, he will be able to start installing and commissioning systems immediately. Estevan credits SEI with the achievement of solar knowledge which he will bring on his journey.

“All of the instructors have great passion, great energy and great real world examples of how it’s applicable and I had a blast,” Estevan said. “ This has been amazing, it’s been a lot, a lot of fun.”

To learn more about renewable energy applications for the developing world, check out SEI’s RDOL101: Appropriate Technology for the Developing World.

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Clean Power Plan Repeal: Myth vs. Reality

With EPA administrator Scott Pruitt’s announcement that the Trump Administration was formally proposing repeal of the so-called “Clean Power Plan” (CPP), certain voices in the blogosphere and media predictably went nuts. In the formal response from IER, we have already applauded the announcement as promoting liberty in energy markets and keeping energy more affordable for American households. In the present post, let me further respond to some of the (hysterical) reactions that are based on myths.

Myth #1: “The Obama Administration never started a ‘war on coal.’ This is a bogus GOP talking point.”

Here it would be harder to find a smokier gun than then-presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama, speaking in a public forum to the San Francisco Chronicle back in January 2008. In this clip he says, “…understanding what is at stake, and climate change is a great example. You know when I was asked earlier about the issue of coal. You know, under my plan, of a cap-and-trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket…”

And then in this clip, in what has become an infamous line, Obama says of his proposed cap-and-trade system, “So if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can. It’s just that it will bankrupt them because they’re going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted.”

Now to be fair, in the clip I’ve hyperlinked, you can see the full context of that notorious statement, where a few moments earlier Obama says he is open to the idea of coal-fired plants so long as all of the greenhouse gas emissions are captured. Yet given the current technology and cost considerations, to insist on emission-free coal is effectively a ban on new coal-fired plants.

Indeed, Obama’s allies knew that this was the case. Writing in 2013, here is economist Paul Krugman, explaining why direct regulation to prohibit coal is a defensible policy, given the political realities:

As I’ve just suggested, the standard economic argument for emissions pricing comes from the observation that there are many margins on which we should operate.…Nonetheless, the message I took from [a book by William Nordhaus] was that direct action to regulate emissions from electricity generation would be a surprisingly good substitute for carbon pricing—not as good, but not bad.

And this conclusion becomes especially interesting given the current legal and political situation in the United States, where nothing like a carbon-pricing scheme has a chance of getting through Congress at least until or unless Democrats regain control of both houses, whereas the Environmental Protection Agency has asserted its right and duty to regulate power plant emissions, and has already introduced rules that will probably prevent the construction of any new coal-fired plants. Taking on the existing plants is going to be much tougher and more controversial, but looks for the moment like a more feasible path than carbon pricing. [Paul Krugman 2013, bold added.]

And there you have it: Paul Krugman was admitting in 2013 that theoretically, an open-ended government “price” on carbon would be preferable, but that in practice Krugman endorsed the EPA’s top-down planning of the energy sector, including the power plant rules that would “probably prevent the contruction of any new coal-fired plants.” And, far from contenting himself with stopping the construction of new plants, Krugman went on to hope that the federal government could “tak[e] on the existing plants.”

So when the fans of open markets in the energy sector complain of a “war on coal,” they aren’t imagining things. Leading figures, including Barack Obama and Nobel laureate Paul Krugman, publicly declared their opposition to coal-fired power plants.

Myth #2: “The EPA’s power plant rules wouldn’t have hurt coal. It was natural gas prices that would hurt coal.”

If this were true, then it wouldn’t make any sense for critics to complain about President Trump’s removal of the CPP, would it? Once again, some of the loudest environmental activists try to have it both ways. On the one hand, measures like the CPP are essential to ensuring that our grandchildren survive the ravages of climate change, while on the other hand, these regulations apparently have no impact whatsoever on energy sources or prices for consumers. These environmentalists need to make up their minds.

It is certainly true that falling natural gas prices are part of the reason the US has shifted some of its electricity generation away from coal and into gas-fired plants. Even so, the CPP was projected to have a serious long-term impact on coal generation.

As I explained in this previous IER post, we can use the EIA’s 2017 long-term energy outlook to get a sense of the government’s own forecast of the CPP’s impact. The following chart from the EIA shows two scenarios, with and without the CPP in force:

 

In the chart above, the right-hand side shows coal’s generation staying roughly level from 2020 through 2040, in the case with no Clean Power Plan.

Yet on the left side, the “Reference case” with the CPP staying in force, we see electricity generation from coal fall significantly from 2020 to 2040, by almost 500 billion kilowatt-hours per year, or about a third.

To be clear, these EIA forecasts include assumptions about coal, natural gas, and renewables pricing and technological breakthroughs. Even so, the CPP in these forecasts made the difference between coal-generated electricity output holding steady versus falling by a third.

We at IER are not in the business of picking winners and losers in the energy sector. If coal loses market share because of developments in hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, then consumers will benefit from more affordable energy.[1]

However, if coal is hampered by government regulations and/or taxes, then this makes energy more expensive. It does not represent innovation or a boon to consumers.

Myth #3: “The Clean Power Plan was essential to the battle against climate change.”

Earlier I pointed out that many critics of the Trump Administration were being inconsistent: On the one hand, they pooh-poohed the warnings that the CPP was hurting the coal sector. On the other hand, they went ballistic saying that the CPP was essential to stop climate change. Those positions can’t both be true.

However, the mirror-image of these claims can be true. Specifically, even though it’s true that the CPP would reduce US coal-fired power generation significantly, it does not follow that the CPP would significantly impact climate change.

For example, climate scientists Pat Michaels and Chip Knappenberger used a standard computer model to estimate that the Clean Power Plan, if it remained in force, would at most have made the global temperature in the year 2100 a mere 0.019 degrees Celsius lower than it otherwise would have been.

Conclusion

Some of President Trump’s most vociferous critics vacillate between mocking him for doing nothing, and freaking out because he’s doing what he said he’d do. No one can deny that Trump campaigned on ending the “war on coal.” The administration’s action on the so-called Clean Power Plan is consistent with that pledge. Contrary to the myths being floated by pundits and bloggers, there really was a war on coal, the fortunes of coal weren’t just due to natural gas prices, and ending the CPP won’t make a big difference to measured climate change.


[1] Some critics allege that “fracking” involves violations of property rights of local landowners. If this were the case, then the practice would not be beneficial to all consumers. Our statements in the text refer to a situation where all market transactions are voluntary.

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China’s New Environmental Problem: Battery Disposal

In 2016, China became the world’s largest electric vehicle market accounting for over 40 percent of the electric vehicles sold worldwide. China passed the United States which had the highest electric vehicle sales in 2015. In 2016, China had over 1 million electric vehicles, which was an 87 percent increase over the previous year. They added 336,000 new electric car registrations; this included battery only and hybrid models. Electric vehicles range in price from $6,000 to $200,000 (for the most expensive Tesla model).[i] Like several European countries, China is planning to ban the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles in favor of electric vehicles at an unannounced date.

China’s success in promoting electric vehicles is due to lucrative subsidies—thousands of dollars worth of subsidies—provided to buyers of these vehicles. For example, in Shanghai, a license plate costs about $15,000 if one is lucky enough to win the right to it in the lottery. However, if you choose to buy a plug-in hybrid, Shanghai will provide the license plate without cost.

China has decided to switch from subsidizing buyers to enforcing a quota system on manufacturers. Under the proposed quotas, most local and foreign automakers must earn points equivalent to 10 percent of vehicles they produce in China and import into the country in 2019 and 12 percent in 2020. By 2025, 20 percent of new car sales must be New Energy Vehicles.[ii] The plan applies to carmakers that produce or import 30,000 cars or more annually.[iii] Automakers that fail to meet the target will have to purchase credits from competitors that have a surplus.[iv]

The government has also subsidized charging stations for electric vehicles. As of December 2016, China had 300,000 charging stations. The country has ordered state-owned Chinese power companies to speed up installation of charging stations.

Electric cars make sense in China because of its dense and crowded cities that often mean shorter driving distances. China has an extensive high-speed rail system that reduces the need for long-distance road trips. In 2016, China had the largest electric car stock in the world with about a third of the global total. China is also the global leader in the electrification of other transport modes with over 200 million electric two-wheelers, 3 to 4 million low-speed electric vehicles and over 300 thousand electric buses.[v]

Battery Recycling and Disposal

But despite all the pros for electric vehicles in China, the country has a big problem with battery disposal. Electric car batteries are toxic if not disposed of properly and China does not have an official policy regarding their disposal. The problem will begin to escalate next year, and by 2020 China is expected to have almost 250,000 metric tons (276,000 tons) of batteries that need disposal—nearly 20 times those in 2016.[vi] (See graph below.)

The average lifespan of a lithium-iron phosphate battery, which is the primary type used in China’s electric vehicles, is around five years. Most batteries installed on electric vehicles during the 2012 to 2014 period will be retired around 2018.

Unusable electric vehicle batteries in China

* Forecast

Source: https://qz.com/1088195/chinas-booming-electric-vehicle-market-is-about-to-run-into-a-mountain-of-battery-waste/

Batteries can be recycled, but recycling them is not easy due to the sophisticated chemical procedures involved. If not handled properly, the heavy metal contained in the battery can lead to contamination of the soil and water.

In China, car manufacturers are responsible for recycling their batteries, but many of them expect battery suppliers to handle the recycling. China’s battery recycling industry is relatively small and scattered, and recycling operating costs are high. Even in the European Union, only 5 percent of lithium-ion batteries, another common type of battery power used in electric vehicles, are recycled.

Conclusion

China is now the largest market for electric vehicles and it is growing due to lucrative subsidies and a future quota system. Its dense and crowded cities are conducive to the use of electric vehicles. However, China will soon be confronted with another environmental problem in the disposal and recycling of batteries.


[i] Parallels, China Moves To Increase Number Of Electric Vehicles On Its Roads, April 25, 2017, http://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2017/04/25/525412342/china-moves-to-increase-number-of-electric-vehicles-on-its-roads

[ii] Seeking Alpha, China To Ban All Petrol And Diesel Cars? Seriously?, September 12, 2017, https://seekingalpha.com/article/4106266-china-ban-petrol-diesel-cars-seriously?auth_param=1cqlaa:1crgicp:88f670313bfce71bb4d0f3f9532dae50&dr=1

[iii] Wall Street Journal, China Sends a Jolt Through Auto Industry With Plans for Electric Future, September 28, 2017, https://www.wsj.com/articles/china-sets-new-deadline-for-electric-car-production-1506608295?mg=prod/accounts-wsj&mg=prod/accounts-wsj

[iv] Independent, China to ban petrol and diesel cars, state media reports, September 10, 2017, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/china-petrol-diesel-car-ban-gasoline-production-sales-electric-cabinet-official-state-media-a7938726.html

[v] International Energy Agency, Global EV Outlook 2017, https://www.iea.org/publications/freepublications/publication/GlobalEVOutlook2017.pdf

[vi] Quartz, China’s booming electric vehicle market is about to run into a mountain of battery waste, September 28, 2017, https://qz.com/1088195/chinas-booming-electric-vehicle-market-is-about-to-run-into-a-mountain-of-battery-waste/

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What Do People Think About Climate Change?

A national research project sponsored by the Institute for Energy Research and the American Conservative Union Foundation consisting of ten focus groups and a nationwide survey (1018 registered voters, margin of error 3.1%) discovered that:

There is little enthusiasm for taxing energy. When asked about a tax on carbon dioxide, 44% of respondents opposed, while 39% favored. More importantly, when asked whether they trusted the federal government to spend the money from such a tax wisely just 18% said they did, 74% said they did not.

Even among those who ranked climate change as an important risk (identifying it as a 6 or higher on a scale of 1 to 10), just 42% indicated taxing energy was an appropriate response to climate change.

People of all ideological stripes and all demographic characteristics remain profoundly skeptical of the ability of government to do anything meaningfully and well. Consequently, they’re unwilling to pay for (or really even consider) anything that looks like a government mandate. Government action is considered a last, worst resort, used only when all other ideas have failed.

Carbon dioxide not considered a pollutant. A solid majority – 55% – said that carbon dioxide is needed for plant life and humans both exhale it and consume it every day. Just 31% said it is damaging the environment.

This (and other results) suggests three things:

First, the obsessive nature of the conversation about carbon dioxide escapes most people. In other words, debates around things like the Paris agreement is more noise than signal.

Second, carbon dioxide and climate change have become decoupled in the minds of many voters. This emphasizes one of the significant findings of this project, namely that climate change has become a catch basket into which all environmental problems have been tossed.

Third, this conversation is far from over. Sentiments about climate change remain as poorly formed and unsettled as they when this conversation began three decades ago. In other words, in spite of the time and billions of dollars spent, those who press this issue don’t seem to be any further along than they were when they started.

“This survey confirms what we have known for a long time. Voters think taxes on energy or its proxy carbon dioxide are a bad idea, and they do not trust the government to spend the money from such taxes,” said Thomas Pyle, IER President and ACU Foundation Policy Fellow.

“In the upcoming debate on tax reform, our elected officials should tread carefully when bringing proposals to impose energy or carbon dioxide taxes to the table,” said ACU leader Matt Schlapp.

To view the nationwide survey in the form of a graphic slideshow, click here. To view it in the form of a PDF, click here.

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SEI represented at South Carolina’s largest install to date

On October 4, Solar Energy International (SEI) was represented at the grand opening of the largest solar array in Upstate South Carolina. The 1 MW solar array, which went live earlier this year, was launched by Glen Raven Fabrics LLC, in partnership with Hannah Solar, a full-service solar integrator based in Atlanta, Georgia, with offices in South Carolina.

The install, which is located on the company’s Anderson campus, is the most recent of two large scale solar installs, according to an article from the Greenville Business Magazine, putting Glen Raven Fabrics LLC on the forefront of the movement toward renewables in the textile industry.

Raven’s president and CEO, Lieb Oehmig told Greenville Business Magazine, “We have culturally always had a great interest and responsibility to make sure we are looking at environmentally sound and sustainable practices,” Oehmig said. He added that this $2 million system will pay for itself in energy savings in just four years, and there is also potential to add on to the system in the neighboring property, also owned by the company.

SEI’s Student Services and Solar Professionals Certificate Program Advisor, Breccia Cressman, attended the event. Also represented were executive team members from Duke Energy, local politicians, and employees from both Glen Raven Fabrics, and Hannah Solar. Alongside SEI at the “solar village” tent were Gerhardt Electric Bikes, TEVA EV Association, and Elon University with a solar generator.

“The installation was inspiring and indicative of the growth and excitement about solar technology in the SouthEast region,” Breccia said.  “SEI connected with professor Robert Charest of Elon University who also had a demonstration table, members of the Anderson County Economic Development Offices who were interested in bringing more solar training to the region, and Hannah Solar.”

Pictured in this article is the ELF Solar-Powered Electric Vehicle, one of the first mass-marketed exclusively solar vehicles. According to Breccia, SEI had the chance to reconnect with old friends and SEI Alumni Jack Martin, professor at Appalachian State, and Derek Robinson of Glen Raven, who were demonstrating the ELF Solar-Powered Electric Vehicle and several solar bicycles for attendees.

It was amazing representing SEI at such a historic and inspiring event,” Breccia said. “As both a local to this region and a member of the solar industry, it’s great to see local and regional businesses setting an example and moving to adopt more sustainable practices like solar, as well as the support and representation from Duke Energy.”

The ELF is an EV powered with a 100-watt solar panel

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Ensuring a Resilient Grid Requires Less Government, Not More

On Friday September 29th, the Department of Energy released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposing a rule for action by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The notice calls on FERC to create new rules for how grid operators value “reliability and resilience” in electricity generation. While the proposed rule is limited in specifics, the essence of the proposal is to guarantee cost recovery for “fuel-secure” power generation units, defined as units with a 90-day fuel supply stored on site. While no specific types of generation units are mentioned, this on-site storage definition would likely apply to coal-fired, nuclear, and hydropower generation facilities.

The Department of Energy has identified a real problem here: the importance to the electricity grid of resilient baseload power generally is not adequately valued. The growth of intermittent sources of electricity like wind and solar creates the most acute need for reliable baseload, but the expansion of natural gas generation is an important consideration as well. Natural gas power plants, while providing stable baseload during most circumstances, normally do not store gas supplies on site. Gas is delivered as needed by pipeline. During emergency circumstances, there is the potential for these pipeline supplies to be disrupted. The intermittency of wind and solar and the potential for disruption to natural gas means that maintaining a substantial percentage of generation capacity that is not subject to interruption is a crucial need to ensure the resiliency of the electricity grid during many types of emergency situations.

However, the proposal from the Department of Energy is an excessive and unnecessarily distortive means of pursuing a more appropriate valuation for secure baseload generation capacity. Like using a sledgehammer to swat a fly, this rule would end up causing enormous destruction even if it also managed to provide more resilient baseload capacity. Guaranteeing cost recovery for certain types of generation would destroy electricity markets. For obvious reasons, investors would immediately favor those investments where the government guarantees their returns. Putting the government’s finger on the scale in this way will increase costs and stifle innovation in new means of generation and delivery. What need is there to innovate and to offer more efficient or cheaper electricity if the government is guaranteeing returns for existing processes?

Secretary of Energy Rick Perry has clarified that he intended this proposed rulemaking as a means of starting a conversation, encouraging FERC to consider these resiliency issues in its decisions. To that extent, we support the underlying intent of the proposed rulemaking, even if its mechanism is unacceptable.

However, Secretary Perry also made a comment that should be disturbing to anyone who values the benefits of freer markets. In seeking to excuse his department’s massive proposed intervention in electricity markets, Secretary Perry stated there is “no free market in the energy industry.” As this applies to electricity markets today, this is of course true. Electricity is a foundational need for modern life and is thus unsurprisingly subject to extensive regulation. And plenty of that regulation is harmful or foolish, such as the extensive promotion of wind and solar through subsidies like the Production Tax Credit and renewable portfolio mandates. Secretary Perry, though, seems to think that all the existing distortions in electricity markets justify the introduction of even more distortions; because some generation sources are currently favored by government policy, that the “solution” is to introduce government favoritism for Secretary Perry’s preferred generation sources. That is precisely the opposite of a free-market solution: we should be seeking to roll back those existing interventions that distort markets, which is exactly what we intend to pursue in the coming debate on tax reform.

It is worth remembering that as an independent agency, FERC is under no obligation to implement this proposed rule. Given FERC’s procedures and its need to build a docket of evidence before any action, the Commission will certainly not be meeting the Department’s rapid timeframe even should it ultimately take action on this proposal. It would be a welcome development for FERC to include resilience and input supply concerns in its decision making process, but this proposed rule from the Department of Energy is not the right way to go about that task.

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IER Response to EPA’s Clean Power Plan Repeal Proposal

WASHINGTON — Institute for Energy Research President Thomas Pyle has issued the following statement regarding EPA’s proposed repeal of its existing source rule, commonly known as the Clean Power Plan, in accordance with President Trump’s energy independence executive order:

“The Clean Power Plan was never about clean power. The nation’s electricity generation fleet is already very clean and getting cleaner—as shown by the nearly 70-percent reduction in criteria pollutants since 1970. The plan was really about instituting more federal control over a dispersed system and driving up the cost of reliable electricity in line with the previous administration’s climate ideology. The result would have been residents in more than 40 states experiencing double-digit percentage increases in their electricity rates by 2030. For that reason, we preferred to call it the Creating Poverty Plan.

“Beyond its implications in terms of dollars and cents, the plan wasn’t cooperative federalism as EPA claimed, but coercive federalism and a misapplication of the Clean Air Act. It extended EPA power in unprecedented ways and marked a clear deviation from the agency’s traditional role. IER commends EPA for its decision to rescind this harmful rule. This is a major victory for American families because it enables all of us to continue reaping the benefits of the affordable energy we need to power our lives and grow the economy.”

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