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In the weeks after Energy Secretary Rick Perry kicked off a 60-day study examining the impact of wind and solar on fossil baseload power plants — hinting that he might use DOE authority to halt state renewable energy targets — an army of researchers, grid experts and renewable energy professionals showed up at his doorstep.

They were armed with a deep body of research (including a report from a prominent anti-subsidy libertarian think tank) and real-world experience (including from Perry’s home state of Texas) showing that variable renewables aren’t the threat to grid reliability that the Energy Secretary implies.

The latest to weigh in: David Hochschild of the California Energy Commission and David Olsen of the California Independent System Operator Board of Governors.

The two prominent energy experts penned an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle, calling DOE assumptions about grid reliability “nonsense.”

“In California, which has installed more clean energy than any other state, there have been no threats to the reliability of the electric grid caused by renewables. Instead, the three biggest threats to our grid over the last 20 years came from market manipulation (Enron et al., during the 2001 energy crisis), a nuclear plant failure (San Onofre, 2012), and the largest natural gas leak in history (Aliso Canyon gas storage facility, 2015). Rather than create these emergencies, renewable energy was part of the solution and continued to operate reliably and prevented these events from becoming worse,” wrote Hochschild and Olsen.

They also look at grid reliability in other countries. Denmark and Germany, which host some of the highest levels of non-hydro renewables in the world, have 10 times fewer minutes of outages each year.

The graph below comes from Dan Shugar, CEO of NEXTracker, who compiled outage data sets back in April.

Shugar posted a response to Perry’s assumptions about solar and wind causing grid reliability problems: “Sorry, Secretary Perry, the facts don’t support that.”

“We analyzed how the grid reliability, as measured by ‘customer outage minutes per year’ of countries with the highest renewable penetration (Denmark, Germany) compare with the USA. The result? Germany and Denmark have two to four times the renewables of the USA, but have much more reliable power — in fact, only 10% of the outages that U.S. customers do,” wrote Shugar.

This isn’t to say that renewables are the reason for Europe’s better outage record. A lack of spending on transmission and distribution infrastructure throughout the 1990s in the U.S. is a major factor in outages. America’s vulnerability to hurricanes is another reason. Europe also buries more of its distribution infrastructure, making it less susceptible to weather-related disruptions.

Still, the presence of very high amounts of renewable energy in European countries — made possible with sophisticated grid management techniques — does not itself make the grid less reliable.

Hochschild and Olsen echoed Shugar’s point in their Friday op-ed.

“What happens when the wind doesn’t blow, or the sun doesn’t shine? To answer that question, one needs to examine the many countries that have more renewable energy than we do. Wind and solar contribute a share 2.5 times larger in Germany’s electricity mix (18.2 percent in 2016) than they do in the United States (6.9 percent). Germany produced 82 percent of its electricity from renewables for a period of several days in May. Denmark gets 100 percent of its electricity from renewables on many days of the year. Yet both nations have electric grids that are 10 times more reliable than America’s. Germany and Denmark average 23 and 24 minutes of customer outages per year, respectively, while the United States averages 240 minutes per year,” they wrote.

The DOE study should be released later this week. It’s one of the most anticipated reports from the agency in years — and it’ll likely be the most scrutinized, too.

Outgoing JPS President Kelly Tomblin.

Power utility Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) plans to build a 24.5-megawatt facility to store energy as a safeguard against power outages.

It’s described as the first of its kind in the Caribbean.

JPS plans to build the facility next year, but no cost was disclosed up to press time. It will act like a giant battery that charges when solar- or wind-energy plants generate energy. It then kicks into action, the less power these renewable plants generate due to cloud cover or low wind speeds.

“The proposed initiative will allow JPS to provide a high-speed response when the output from renewables is suddenly reduced to mitigate stability and power quality issues that cause outages to customers,” stated JPS in a release.

The company did not respond immediately to questions seeking more details. It initially said the release, which appeared on the Jamaica Stock Exchange’s website, was not meant to be made public until Monday.

Peak energy usage in Jamaica starts at 6.30 p.m. to 9.30 p.m, which represents a leisure peak, rather than an economic development peak. That becomes important as solar plants reduce power generation just as the peak period starts.

PROVIDING VALUE

Additionally, wind farms optimally generate power at nights but after peak periods. The storage facility would, therefore, provide value as it comes into effect at peak periods utilising the power already stored.

The facility requires regulatory approval from the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) but in anticipation, the JPS board of directors last week signed off on the hybrid energy storage solution, the release stated. The project involves construction of a 24.5MW facility at the Hunts Bay Power Plant Substation, and will be a combination of high-speed and low-speed flywheels and containerised lithium-ion batteries. Once approved for construction, it would become operational by the third quarter of 2018.

“The innovation will help to secure grid stability and reliability in the face of increasing intermittent renewable energy. The energy storage solution will have power readily available in the event that solar and wind renewable systems, suddenly lose power due to cloud cover, reduced wind or other interruptions,” stated the release.

It will also provide a much faster, cost effective and environmentally friendly spinning reserve or backup as an alternative to traditional generation spinning reserve which is required by the company.

INCREASED FLEXIBILITY

Additionally, the JPS is seeking to convert more generating units to use liquefied natural gas (LNG). This will result in increased flexibility of the generating units, as the JPS moves to ensure that customers have a more reliable, affordable and sustainable quality service. JPS continues to steadily diversify from solely heavy oil fuel to include natural gas and some 115MW of renewables.

Energy efficiency is now an integral part of JPS’ push to become a more modern and cleaner energy provider.

Jamaica has an energy intensity of approximately 4,800 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per US$1,000 of gross domestic product. To put that into perspective, last December outgoing JPS president Kelly Tomblin described it as one of the highest in Latin America and the Caribbean. She indicated that such inefficient use of energy constrains Jamaica’s growth.

The country, however, has made some gains in its efficiency drive. It ranked 92nd in the World Economic Forum’s Global Energy Architecture Performance Index Report 2017, up from 98 the year before.

The rise in rank was attributed to the 80MW of renewables added in 2016 and plans for an additional 100MW of renewable this year.

In Jamaica last year, Wigton Wind Farm III added 24MW of renewable capacity, BMR Windfarm added 36.3MW, and WRB Content Solar, 20MW. The country saved around US$18 million (J$2.3 billion) in oil imports based on the 80MW renewable energy projects.

Concurrently, those renewable projects saved 800,000 metric tonnes in toxic carbon emissions, according to the energy ministry.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s outlook shows renewables will be cheaper almost everywhere in just a few years.

Solar power, once so costly it only made economic sense in spaceships, is becoming cheap enough that it will push coal and even natural-gas plants out of business faster than previously forecast.

That’s the conclusion of a Bloomberg New Energy Finance outlook for how fuel and electricity markets will evolve by 2040. The research group estimated solar already rivals the cost of new coal power plants in Germany and the U.S. and by 2021 will do so in quick-growing markets such as China and India.

The scenario suggests green energy is taking root more quickly than most experts anticipate. It would mean that global carbon dioxide pollution from fossil fuels may decline after 2026, a contrast with the International Energy Agency’s central forecast, which sees emissions rising steadily for decades to come.

“Costs of new energy technologies are falling in a way that it’s more a matter of when than if,” said Seb Henbest, a researcher at BNEF in London and lead author of the report.

The report also found that through 2040:

  • China and India represent the biggest markets for new power generation, drawing $4 trillion, or about 39 percent all investment in the industry.
  • The cost of offshore wind farms, until recently the most expensive mainstream renewable technology, will slide 71 percent, making turbines based at sea another competitive form of generation.
  • At least $239 billion will be invested in lithium-ion batteries, making energy storage devices a practical way to keep homes and power grids supplied efficiently and spreading the use of electric cars.
  • Natural gas will reap $804 billion, bringing 16 percent more generation capacity and making the fuel central to balancing a grid that’s increasingly dependent on power flowing from intermittent sources, like wind and solar.

BNEF’s conclusions about renewables and their impact on fossil fuels are most dramatic. Electricity from photovoltaic panels costs almost a quarter of what it did in 2009 and is likely to fall another 66 percent by 2040. Onshore wind, which has dropped 30 percent in price in the past eight years, will fall another 47 percent by the end of BNEF’s forecast horizon.

That means even in places like China and India, which are rapidly installing coal plants, solar will start providing cheaper electricity as soon as the early 2020s.

“These tipping points are all happening earlier and we just can’t deny that this technology is getting cheaper than we previously thought,” said Henbest.

Coal will be the biggest victim, with 369 gigawatts of projects standing to be cancelled, according to BNEF. That’s about the entire generation capacity of Germany and Brazil combined.

Capacity of coal will plunge even in the U.S., where President Donald Trump is seeking to stimulate fossil fuels. BNEF expects the nation’s coal-power capacity in 2040 will be about half of what it is now after older plants come offline and are replaced by cheaper and less-polluting sources such as gas and renewables.

In Europe, capacity will fall by 87 percent as environmental laws boost the cost of burning fossil fuels. BNEF expects the world’s hunger for coal to abate starting around 2026 as governments work to reduce emissions in step with promises under the Paris Agreement on climate change.

“Beyond the term of a president, Donald Trump can’t change the structure of the global energy sector single-handedly,” said Henbest.

All told, the growth of zero-emission energy technologies means the industry will tackle pollution faster than generally accepted. While that will slow the pace of global warming, another $5.3 trillion of investment would be needed to bring enough generation capacity to keep temperature increases by the end of the century to a manageable 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), the report said.

The data suggest wind and solar are quickly becoming major sources of electricity, brushing aside perceptions that they’re too expensive to rival traditional fuels.

By 2040, wind and solar will make up almost half of the world’s installed generation capacity, up from just 12 percent now, and account for 34 percent of all the power generated, compared with 5 percent at the moment, BNEF concluded.

The April 17, 2016, islandwide power outage cost the Jamaican economy $340 million in losses, stated consultant with the Office of Utilities Regulation Valentine Fagan.

He pointed out that the poor decisions made by the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS), which resulted in the widespread power failure, had an economic cost that the country cannot afford.

Fagan’s comments came during a meeting of the Economy and Production Committee of Parliament yesterday where the parliamentary body urged the Ministry of Science, Energy and Technology to expedite plans to craft a scheme of fines for imposition on the JPS in cases where the country is plunged into darkness as a result of major system failures.

PENALTY SCHEME

Director General of the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) Ansord Hewett told members of the parliamentary committee that the Electricity Act of 2015 provides for a scheme of penalty, which can be enforced in a court of law, but the process could take an inordinately long period to resolve.

However, he said that there is an option to establish a scheme of penalties where the JPS agrees to paying a fine when it breaches certain service requirements.

Hewett said that the OUR has been pushing the ministry to get that arrangement in place, which would provide the regulatory body with an additional tool to impose sanctions if necessary.

The committee was discussing the OUR report on the JPS’s major system failure, which left most parishes without power for several hours on April 17, 2016.

Committee member Fitz Jackson suggested that the penalties sufficiently high to discourage breaches.

“I expect that the fines will be of sufficient magnitude to discourage any breaches,” he insisted.

Hewitt said that the ministry indicated recently that it would shortly be sending the OUR a proposal on the scheme of sanctions for it to review.

Committee chairman Anthony Hylton told his colleagues that in a situation where the JPS holds a monopoly, fines to regulate conduct becomes even more important. Commenting on proposals for penalties and fines to be imposed on the JPS, Sam Davis, head of government and regulatory affairs at the JPS, told the committee that the company did not intend to wait on sanctions to make appropriate decisions and take actions in relation to improved service to customers.

Gleaner

 Prime Minister Andrew Holness (right) greets Lascelles Chin, founder and executive chairman LASCO Affiliates Companies, at the LASCO Releaf Environmental Awareness Programme Awards Ceremony at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel, in New Kingston on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness says the Government will embark on a programme aimed at transforming the collection and management of garbage before the end of the year.

Prime Minister Holness says work is far advanced in examining options for waste-to-energy solutions.

He says the process is being handled by an enterprise team.

Prime Minister Holness was speaking at the LASCO Releaf Environmental Awareness Programme (REAP) Awards Ceremony yesterday in Kingston.

REAP is geared towards helping children become environmentally conscious through fun competition.

The programme incorporates some 120 primary and preparatory schools this year.

Holness says for Jamaica to experience sustainable growth, the practice of protecting the environment for future generations must be embedded in the mindset of children.

He states that the LASCO REAP initiative will add to the national effort in managing waste disposal and protecting the environment.

Gleaner

Tomblin admits stemming the problem her toughest task

Jamaica Public Service President and CEO Kelly Tomblin admitting that the company’s decision to cut electricity supply to some communities, because of non-payment, pained her.

Kelly Tomblin didn’t hesitate when she admitted that the greatest challenge she faced in her five years at Jamaica Public Service Company Limited (JPS) was electricity theft.In fact, the power company’s president and CEO, who is leaving next month, managed a chuckle as she spoke about the problem that has plagued her company for decades.

“You know, it is really hard to deal with the amount of electricity theft in Jamaica, it’s really hard,” she told the Jamaica Observer with a heavy sigh.

“We estimate about 180,000 homes, that’s about a million people”, who are benefiting from electricity theft, Tomblin said in an interview at her office last Wednesday.

Frustrated by the level and persistence of the theft, JPS, in January this year, said it was ready to name, shame, and prosecute offenders — a 180-degree turn in its policy of declining to take legal action against electricity thieves who, Tomblin had disclosed last year, were costing the company US$2 million per month.

“We now strongly believe that if we do not prosecute, name and shame, we cannot win. We will therefore be working more closely with the police to make arrests and prosecution a major part of our anti-theft strategy going forward,” JPS’s Director of Revenue Security Major George Kates wrote in the company’s Energy Matters column published in the Observer in January.

But even amidst the hard approach Tomblin has empathy for Jamaicans, who she believes are unable to pay for the utility.

“My heart’s torn because you have people who absolutely cannot pay,” she lamented last Wednesday. Her pain, she said, got worse when the company took a decision to cut electricity to communities where theft was more than 80 per cent.

“That’s the one that leaves me with the most pain… that one moment of turning the power off,” she admitted.

“We can’t keep giving power to these communities and make other people pay. That was a defining moment for us, because I think we said we just cannot take this any more,” Tomblin told the Sunday Observer.

“We did cut off people, and we had a cease-and-desist order from the OUR (Office of Utilities Regulation) and public outrage, but for us it’s just like it comes to a point where you have to say the situation is not being addressed,” Tomblin explained.

Although electricity theft is now a crime punishable by a heavy fine and/or five years in prison, JPS has been working with communities to halt the practice.

That effort, Tomblin said, started under an agreement with the previous Government for a community renewal programme which involves the installation of prepaid meters.

The programme was implemented in 10 communities and appears to be working well.

“One of the things I’m proud of is, I was just in Majesty Gardens — where we have community representatives who are helping people get power,” Tomblin said.

“I’m excited because these last few months we’ve seen losses go down. We’re happy we’re seeing a downward trend, the first time in a long time. This is the best performance we’re seeing in four years,” she added.

The improvement, while not yet in double figures, is significant as, according to Winsome Callum, director, corporate communications, the company actually saw a stabilisation of the losses before the movement south.

“It was a big thing just to keep it from going up,” said Callum, who sat in on the interview.

She attributed the development to a combination of strategies. “We continue to pull down [illegal connections], but we also continue to do a lot more with technology,” Callum explained.

In 2015, JPS took down 205,300 throw-ups — basically crude, illegal connections found mostly in depressed communities — and arrested 783 people for electricity theft that resulted in a loss of US$18.8 million to the company.

The power company continues to argue that it cannot solve the problem alone; the responsibility needs to be shared by political representatives who have influence over large numbers of people, as well as law-abiding Jamaicans.

“Can you imagine what a culture change it would be if people really got legitimate electricity throughout Jamaica?” Tomblin asked.

Jamaica Observer