All posts by Megan Nicholson

SolarInstallation

BLM Should Re-Think its Failed Solar Auction to Drive Innovation

Last month the Department of Interior (DOI) Bureau of Land Management (BLM) held its first competitive auction for commercial solar development on public lands, offering three parcels for lease with a collective acreage of 3,700 in the San Luis Valley of Colorado. The three leases are located in two of DOI’s designated “Solar Energy Zones,” which the DOI carved out for quick solar development due to access to existing transmission, limited environmental impacts, and cheap land rental.

If fully developed, these two Solar Energy Zones could potentially produce 400 MW of energy, enough to power an estimated 125,000 homes. Unfortunately DOI was alone in their enthusiasm as the auction drew zero bids from solar companies. Moving forward, DOI should learn from this initial failure and expand its Solar Energy Zones to also act as a test bed for next-generation clean energy designs, not just off-the-shelf technologies.

The auction outcome took DOI and solar advocates by surprise because the leases were such a good deal and there is significant interest in solar development in Colorado. Leases were offered at fairly low starting bonus bid minimums ($3,352; $4,035; and $4,284 … Read the rest

2013 ARGONNE SUSTAINABILITY TEACHERS WORKSHOP

ARPA-E Rethinks Electric Vehicle Batteries

Before its annual Energy Innovation Summit in 2013, the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) announced funding for a new program aimed at rethinking electric vehicle (EV) batteries. The program, Robust Affordable Next Generation Energy Storage Systems or RANGE, was created as part of an integrated effort to accelerate electric vehicle innovation to reduce costs and improve performance of EVs. Last week, ARPA-E announced the names and descriptions of the 22 recipients for the RANGE program, representing fresh approaches to making EVs available to everyone.

ARPA-E has invested in transportation technologies since its creation. The new RANGE program complements the agency’s BEEST program for doubling the energy density of EV batteries by altering battery composition and materials, AMPED for seeking advanced power management technologies for storage, andGRIDS, for developing cheap utility scale storage. The RANGE program is a genuine reflection of these previous ARPA-E’s programs as it supports truly far-reaching innovations and revolutionary energy technologies.

The program recognizes that significant breakthroughs in battery chemistry and vehicle architecture are crucial for EVs to compete with internal combustion vehicles. In response, most of the RANGE projects consider alternative … Read the rest

Smart-grid-vehicle-charging

Pilot Projects for Inspiring Utility Innovation

Last year Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley asked the Energy Future Coalition (EFC), a project of the UN Foundation, to design a multi-faceted and comprehensive pilot-project plan for the state’s utilities. EFC assembled a stakeholder group including two Maryland utilities, PEPCO and Baltimore Gas & Electric Company (BGE), to submit ideas for pilot projects that could build a “better utility future.” The resulting report, “Utility 2.0: Piloting the Future for Maryland’s Electric Utilities and their Customers,” takes a different path than typical electricity utility reform strategies. Rather than dictating a single pathway for higher renewable penetration, the report calls for a number of pilot projects designed to create an entirely new grid system that advances innovation, resilience, reliability, flexibility, and financial viability for customers.

Electric utilities are usually characterized as ‘anti-innovators’ as their ultimate goal is only to sell electricity at the lowest cost and highest reliability. Integrating and transmitting distributed renewable energy presents a challenge to the standard operation of utilities due to intermittency issues, distribution, and new infrastructure needs.

Conventional policy suggests that utilities must be regulated into conforming to a renewable future. The Maryland study indicates … Read the rest

Semisubmersible_oil_drilling_rig

Adding Energy Innovation to the FAIR Act

In March Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Mary Landrieu (D-LA) introduced S. 1273, the Fixing America’s Inequities with Revenues (FAIR) Act of 2013.The bill received attention again last week, when it was reexamined during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing. The FAIR Act, recommends allocating a set share of 27.5 percent of total federal offshore drilling revenues to coastal states with productive drilling leases up to 200 nautical miles off their coastlines.Under the FAIR Act, states that set up funds for alternative and renewable energy, energy efficiency, or conservation would be eligible to receive an additional 10 percent of revenues, which offers states an opportunity to strengthen investments in innovation.

Unfortunately, the bill as presented is weak – it does not include any measures to directly support clean energy innovation with drilling revenue. ITIF argued in its recent report, Drilling for Clean Energy Innovation, that raising revenue from fossil fuel drilling is a direct and bipartisan way to support clean energy innovation and mitigate climate change. While the FAIR Act provides a unique incentive for states to invest in energy programs, there is little guarantee that … Read the rest

Photo Credit: Jim Hatter (2009), Wikimedia Commons

Adding Energy Innovation to the FAIR Act

In March Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Mary Landrieu (D-LA) introduced S. 1273, the Fixing America’s Inequities with Revenues (FAIR) Act of 2013.The bill received attention again last week, when it was reexamined during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing. The FAIR Act, recommends allocating a set share of 27.5 percent of total federal offshore drilling revenues to coastal states with productive drilling leases up to 200 nautical miles off their coastlines.Under the FAIR Act, states that set up funds for alternative and renewable energy, energy efficiency, or conservation would be eligible to receive an additional 10 percent of revenues, which offers states an opportunity to strengthen investments in innovation.

Unfortunately, the bill as presented is weak – it does not include any measures to directly support clean energy innovation with drilling revenue. ITIF argued in its recent report, Drilling for Clean Energy Innovation, that raising revenue from fossil fuel drilling is a direct and bipartisan way to support clean energy innovation and mitigate climate change. While the FAIR Act provides a unique incentive for states to invest in energy programs, there is little guarantee that … Read the rest

Ernie Moniz

ARPA-E Announces a Different Path for Solar Innovation

Despite the House of Representative’s recent vote to cut appropriations for the Department of Energy’s breakthrough research agency, ARPA-E, by 74 percent, the agency continues to advance the development of next-generation clean energy technologies. ARPA-E recently announced a $30 million funding opportunity, Full-Spectrum Optimized Conversion and Utilization of Sunlight (FOCUS), aimed at developing new hybrid solar energy systems that include storage, at lower costs and with greater performance.

The FOCUS program is looking for projects that research and develop solar technologies beyond current photovoltaic and concentrated solar power models. Research will specifically confront the persistent and most inhibiting performance weakness of existing solar technologies and a major obstacle for improving solar cost competitiveness: providing consistent energy supply when the sun is not shining.

Like ARPA-E projects in general, these solar projects won’t look like your average commercial panels. Instead of funding incremental improvements in solar cell efficiency, ARPA-E’s investments aim to accelerate transformative changes to the way we think about harnessing and controlling solar energy. The FOCUS program recognizes that to reach cost-competitiveness, new solar technologies must not only improve efficiency, they must do so in a way that provides … Read the rest

Obama’s Budget Boosts Support for Energy Innovation

President Obama released his long-awaited FY2014 budget request and while it’s unlikely the budget will be taken up by Congress in its entirety, it remains an important document. Namely, the proposal is significant because it steadfastly argues that America can continue to support next-generation industries like clean energy. In fact, the President’s proposal budgets for a number of high-profile, high-impact programs, including those aimed at growing the domestic clean energy manufacturing sector, reduce transportation fuel use, and calls on Congress to fund a new Energy Innovation Hub to transform the electricity grid.

Across the board, the FY2014 request boosts key energy innovation offices at DOE by about 15 percent compared to the FY2013 Continuing Resolution and seven percent higher than the President’s FY2013 request. The lion’s share of budget gains are aimed at the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), which would see a budget increase of 54 percent from FY2013 CR levels, and at the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E),  which would see a budget increase of 46 percent.

Expanding Research Capabilities in Advanced Energy Manufacturing

The largest budget increase target at EERE – 22 percent to … Read the rest

Congress Passes Full-Year FY2013 Continuing Resolution

This year’s budget process has been complicated by a number of factors: confusion surrounding the sequestration cuts, the absence of the President’s FY2014 budget proposal, an expiring Continuing Resolution (CR), and Congress reviewing budget proposals for FY2014 and appropriations bills for FY2013 at the same time. While the FY2014 budget is yet to be decided, last week the House approved the Senate’s version of the Full-Year Consolidated and Further Continuing Resolution Act of 2013, which funds the federal government for the remainder of the 2013 fiscal year. Since the current Continuing Resolution is set to expire on March 27, the bill, which now heads to President Obama’s desk to be signed into public law, avoids a government shutdown by a matter of days.

As shown in the figure, the new CR is not very different from the old CR in terms of investments in energy innovation. The previous CR was based on FY2012 funding levels, and the new CR lowers investments in energy R&D by less than one percent from FY2012 levels.

CR(2) graph

The table below shows the recent appropriations legislative history in relationship to FY2012 funding levels. The new … Read the rest

Capital

President’s Call for Addressing Climate Change Lacks Vision and Scope

President Obama aggressively called for addressing climate change in his fifth State of the Union address, but ultimately came up short of outlining a clear and compelling vision with the necessary policy scope to address the significant technological challenges impacting clean energy.

Here are my five top take-aways:

1) Demanded Action to Address Climate Change

It is indicative of the sad state of the U.S. climate debate when a mere mention of support for addressing climate change elicits celebration. Nonetheless, the President deserves credit for calling on Congress to take action against climate change and using about 10 percent of his speech to discuss what he would like to see.

“But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change. Yes, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods – all are now more frequent and more intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states

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Breaking Down the Federal Clean Energy Innovation Budget: Manufacturing Investments

This is the 5th and final post in a series analyzing and detailing federal investments in clean energy innovation. Part 1 defined “clean energy innovation.” Part 2 broke down the federal clean energy innovation budget. Part 3 took a look at federal investments in clean energy demonstration projects.  Part 4 took a deeper dive into clean energy deployment policies.

In the first post of this series, I called attention to the eminent need for supporting a well-developed and funded clean energy manufacturing sector as part of a robust innovation ecosystem. The feedback loops between manufacturing and research is explicitly linked. Even with all the R&D, demonstration, and deployment of clean energy, the United States could lose its competitive advantage over production resulting in the industry (and future innovation) to move overseas without strong policy support for advanced manufacturing. But like many other parts of America’s energy innovation budget, support for advanced manufacturing is rapidly declining.

The figure below shows that investment in clean energy manufacturing has fallen from nearly $9 billion to only $700 million between FY2009 and FY2012, or a 92 percent decrease. Direct spending in FY2009 and FY2010 … Read the rest