News & Notes

by James Bowen

Global Renewable Energy Jobs Up 14%

New research from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) shows that about 6.5 million workers were employed in the global renewable energy industry in 2013, a 14% increase over 2012.

IRENA Director Adnan Z. Amin said the agency’s report, Renewable Energy and Jobs—Annual Review 2014, released in May, shows that the clean energy sector is no longer a niche market and has become a significant employer worldwide.

“The insights into shifts along segments of the value chain revealed in the report are crucial to developing policy that strengthens job growth in this important sector of the economy,” he said.

China continues to have the biggest renewables job market by far, employing 2.64 million people. Brazil is second with 894,000 jobs, and the United States is third with 625,000 jobs. India and Germany round out the top five.

Solar photovoltaic remained the dominant technology sector, employing 2.27 million people, followed by liquid biofuels, wind power, and biomass with 1.45 million, 834,000, and 782,000 employees, respectively.

The Chinese solar photovoltaic sector showed very impressive growth thanks to an upswing in installation jobs, with IRENA recording a 500% increase in installations in the country between 2011 and 2013.

This demand was more than enough to account for an oversupply of panels in recent years, and helped to sustain a steady manufacturing renewables sector.

U.S. employment in solar has also been rising fast, with about 143,000 jobs now sustained across all technologies, representing a 20% increase over 2012.

The manufacturing capacity of the U.S. wind industry has also risen considerably, though overall employment levels in the sector fell from 80,700 to 50,500 between 2012 and 2013. This decrease was attributed to uncertainty around federal support mechanisms such as the Production Tax Credit, which resulted in 2013 seeing the lowest annual number of installations since 2004, a drop of 94% on the previous year.

China, along with Canada, nonetheless provided for positive wind industry employment trends globally, while Europe continued to be the worldwide center of industry activity.

The report showed continuing shifts from developed to emerging countries in wind and solar technology employment, predominantly in the manufacturing and installation sectors.

GSA Switches to Green Button for Energy Information

The agency responsible for managing the federal government’s real estate has adopted Green Button technology in a bid to save energy and costs across its portfolio of buildings.

Green Button allows households and businesses to access their own energy usage data from their electric utilities in a downloadable, user-friendly format. The technology already provides access to energy data for more than 43 million customers, a number that is expected to rise to more than 61 million in the future.

The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) announced it was participating in a pilot program to test the new platform within government.
Other participants include the DOE and EPA, which have collaborated with Schneider Electric, Pepco Holdings, and FirstFuel Software to roll out the platform.

Green Button was developed at the request of the White House and is seen as a key to meeting the target of having 20% of federal agencies’ total electricity coming from renewable energy sources by 2020. Earlier research found that energy management of 100 GSA buildings could provide more than $16 million in energy savings.

GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini said the agency was committed to supporting President Obama’s clean energy goals. “As one of the largest real estate managers in the country, adopting Green Button technology across our real estate portfolio allows us to improve building performance and save taxpayer dollars,” he said.

Energy Star Program Extended to Clothes Dryers

The EPA has unveiled the first Energy Star label for clothes dryers, with the potential to avoid 22 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions if all U.S. consumers were to switch over to eligible appliances.

The new specifications recognize a selection of highly efficient electric, gas, and compact dryers that will use about 20% less energy than required by standards that come into effect in 2015.

Eligible appliances will incorporate innovations such as auto-termination sensors that end cycles immediately after clothes are dry, and heat pumps that recapture previously lost hot air and pump it back into the drum.

As well as the potential reductions in carbon emissions, U.S. consumers could save more than $1.5 billion in electricity costs by switching over.

In 2013 alone, the existing Energy Star system helped consumers reduce their utility bills by more than $30 billion and save the equivalent of the carbon emissions from 38 million homes.

The new specifications for clothes dryers were created after extensive input from manufacturers, retailers, the DOE, and environmental groups.To earn the Energy Star label, products will need to be certified by an EPA-recognized third party and participate in verification testing programs operated by recognized certification bodies.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said dryers were one of the most energy-intensive home appliances yet to be covered by the program. More than 80% of U.S. homes have clothes dryers, and they account for about 6% of residential electricity use.

The new Energy Star specification also establishes optional criteria for “connected” dryers that will alert consumers to performance issues or give feedback on the energy efficiency of different cycle settings. These new dryers will also provide the option of smart grid integration, allowing consumers to connect their dryers to their local utility to save money on energy bills.

The Energy Star label was introduced in 1992 and can be found on products in more than 70 different categories, with more than 4.5 billion qualifying units sold during the past 20 years.

South Carolina Legislates for Increased Renewables

Amendments to South Carolina laws introduced in May aim to establish a more diverse portfolio of state energy resources over the next decade.

The newly implemented South Carolina Distributed Energy Resource Act is designed to increase the reliability and efficiency of the state’s power generation through participation in a voluntary, cost-recovery program.

To reduce emissions, the Act requires all utilities aiming to provide new distributed energy resources to, at a minimum, develop renewable energy facilities that produce nameplate capacity equal to at least 2% of the utilities’ previous five-year averages of peak demand within South Carolina.

This renewable capacity will need to be implemented by 2021 and must be in the range of more than 1,000 kW of alternating current (AC) electricity but no more than 10,000 kW AC. The implementation of the new Act was accompanied by legislative amendments to create a new Net Energy Metering Program in the state.

This program will allow for the introduction of metering equipment to measure the difference between the energy supplied to customers by electric utilities and the energy these customers provide to the network through small renewable energy generation technologies such as solar power.

Introduction of this technology has already been widespread in states such as California, where it allows participating customers to receive financial credits for the power they feed back to their utilities.

The recent amendments also provided for a program allowing for the lease of renewable electric generation facilities under certain conditions.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, South Carolina currently ranks in the middle of the table of states for renewables capacity.

It is 23rd in the country for net summer capacity with 1.623 GW, and 24th for net generation capacity with 4.240 GWh.

Texas Topples Wind Record in March

Wind power generation in Texas reached an output of 10,296 MW at precisely 8:48 p.m. on March 26, a U.S. record.

The grid operator, Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), reported that the new peak meant wind power was supplying almost 29% of the state’s electricity load at that point in time.

About 1,433 MW of the impressive total came from turbines located on the Gulf Coast, with most of the remainder coming from West Texas wind farms, where new transmission projects were recently completed.

The 10,296 MW figure broke the state’s previous high set earlier in March by more than 600 megawatts.

The new record is unlikely to last for very long, with wind capacity in Texas currently topping 12,000 MW, or about a fifth of U.S. capacity.

An estimated additional 7,000 MW of wind projects were under construction in Texas at the end of 2013, but there is no guarantee that all of these will be completed, or in what time frame.

Texas added just 150 MW to its wind power ledger in 2013, which was a significant slowdown on the 2012 figure of 1,600 MW, mirroring the general nationwide reduction attributed to the lapsed federal Production Tax Credit.

About 11,000 MW of Texas’s current wind capacity is within ERCOT’s region.

“With the continuing growth in wind generation capacity and the completion of new transmission projects to get it to the grid, ERCOT is making greater use of this resource,” said Ken McIntyre, the utility’s vice president of grid planning and operations.

Obama Plan Targets Major Emissions Cuts

In the most significant American commitment to fighting climate change yet, President Barack Obama announced a range of actions in June that aim to reduce national carbon emissions by 30% of 2005 levels by 2030.

The so-called Clean Power Plan will look to find these cuts in the power plant sector, which accounts for about a third of all U.S. domestic greenhouse gas emissions—the largest of any individual economic sector—and whose carbon output has increased by about 11% since 1990.

According to the EPA, which will administer it, the new plan will have the added benefit of cutting particle pollution, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide by more than 25%. The agency claims it will also avoid as many as 6,600 premature deaths and 150,000 asthma attacks.

And, in terms that even the most economically minded individuals can understand, it will provide up to $93 billion in climate and public health benefits while shrinking household electricity bills by roughly 8%, through increasing energy efficiency and reducing energy demand.

At the time of the announcement, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said no choice needed to be made between a healthy economy and a healthy environment. “Our action will sharpen America’s competitive edge, spur innovation, and create jobs,” she said.

The plan will be implemented through a partnership of the states and federal government, with the former required to identify emissions reduction pathways within their existing power generation networks or create new ones, either in isolation or through the formation of cross-border arrangements.

President Obama and the EPA have set a deadline of June 2016 for the submission of these plans, but they have given states the option of a two-step process for submitting plans if they require more time.

The agency will be accepting comments on the new Clean Power Plan for 120 days after its formal publication.
Four public hearings will be held in Denver, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and Pittsburgh.

Reception of the plan by big environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council and Environmental Defense Fund has generally been positive. Others consider the targeted cuts too modest and the plan prone to fail if the states are unwilling to hold up their end of the bargain.

There is also the issue of effectively giving other emissions-generating economic sectors a free ride, with transportation and heavy industry together accounting for more emissions than the power generation sector.

This is to say nothing of the predictably negative Republican response to the new plan, particularly from those lawmakers from the major coal-mining states.

EPA Authority on Emissions Regulation Upheld, Within Limits

The U.S. Supreme Court has largely upheld the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act but warned against the agency’s perceived mission creep on the issue.

In June’s 7-to-2 split decision, the ruling stated that the EPA could continue to impose air pollution controls on power plants, refineries, and other fixed greenhouse gas emitters.

However, in a 5-to-4 vote, the justices limited the EPA’s ability to issue carbon-limiting permits to facilities that were not already emitting other forms of pollution covered by its restrictions, which could apply to smaller facilities such as apartment buildings, offices, and even schools.

Justice Antonin Scalia argued that the Clean Air Act did not permit the EPA’s interpretation and issued the stern warning that “an agency may not rewrite clear statutory terms to suit its own sense of how the statute should operate.”

“We are not willing to stand on the dock and wave goodbye as the EPA embarks on a multi-year voyage of discovery,” Justice Scalia said.

Regardless, the conservative judge saw the ruling as a big win for the agency, saying that it was “getting almost everything it wanted in this case.” Indeed, the ruling allowed the EPA to continue to issue permits for sources of about 83% of national carbon emissions, just short of the 86% its previous approach would have allowed.

Despite its supposed expansive reading of its powers, the EPA had not been targeting smaller emitters owing to a lack of administrative imperative—a level of discernment for which the Court also admonished it. Given this outcome, the recent ruling has largely left the EPA in a position of being able to issue permits to the largest of the greenhouse gas emitters while forgoing any obligations to regulate the smaller ones.

Most commentators consider the ruling as the latest in a long line of recent Supreme Court wins for the EPA and the Obama administration’s fight against climate change.

It follows last year’s rejection of a similar challenge to the agency’s regulation of greenhouse gases and an April decision upholding the EPA’s rule to cut pollution from power plant–derived soot and smog that crosses state lines.

Most important for President Obama, this latest ruling has no bearing on the new power plant–targeting rules issued in June, which will require states to reduce their total carbon output by about 30%.

New Range of Biogas Fuels Covered by Renewables Standard

Several types of biogas-based fuels can now be classified as advanced and cellulosic biofuels under changes to the EPA’s Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

The changes, contained in an EPA final rule signed off this month, allow for compressed and liquefied natural gas produced from biogas from landfills, sewage, and agricultural facilities, as well as electricity used to power vehicles produced from biogas at these types of facilities, to be included in the RFS.

The EPA says the improved pathways have the potential to provide “notable” new volumes of cellulosic biofuels within the RFS.

The agency issued the rule to assist compliance among regulated parties by clarifying the number of renewable identification numbers (RIN) generated for fuel made with feedstocks of varying cellulosic content, specifying new or amended pathways for producing fuels made from biogas, and clarifying or amending RFS regulations around registration, record keeping, and reporting.

The incorporation of new fuels has been made possible by the proposed inclusion of fuels of “predominantly,” rather than purely, cellulosic feedstock, and the corresponding establishment of a threshold of 75% of cellulosic content on a dry mass basis for RINs.

In addition to the RFS changes, the new rule aims to aid compliance with the EPA’s “E15” requirements for misfueling mitigation of 15% volume ethanol blends, and also looks to remove some of the regulatory burden and costs associated with the ultra-low sulfur diesel program, primarily through decreased survey requirements.

Parties affected by the new rulings will be those involved in the production, distribution, and sale of transportation fuels, including gasoline and diesel, or renewable fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel. This includes refineries and importers, chemical and allied products merchant wholesalers, dealers, pipeline transporters, solid waste landfills, and sewage treatment facilities.

Citing time constraints and the submission of considerable public commentary, the EPA stopped short of taking final action on a number of other new pathways for alternative fuels, including butanol and renewable diesel, naphtha, and gasoline from biogas.

The rule also held off on providing additional compliance requirements for non-RIN-generating foreign renewable fuel providers, or on setting a number of new definitions, such as what constitutes a “producer” of renewable compressed or liquefied natural gas, or of electricity from biogas.

Unprecedented Lift for Massachusetts Offshore Wind

The federal government has provided huge new incentives to develop offshore wind energy in Massachusetts, including moves toward a $150 million loan guarantee for the first commercial U.S. facility of this kind.

The DOE this month made a conditional commitment to issue the sizeable guarantee to developers of the Cape Wind project off Cape Cod, which would have a generating capacity of more than 360 MW of electricity from 130 turbines.

If approved, the project could join more than 30 closed and committed projects supported by the DOE’s Loan Programs Office, including eight that have become operational in the past year—among them one of the world’s largest photovoltaic solar plants.

Cape Wind has subsequently been given votes of confidence from the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service, which decided not to require “incidental-take permits” for several whale species and not to request that the project be shut off during
certain periods.

The project has the potential to supply three-quarters of the electricity used on Cape Cod and the islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, and will create an estimated 400 jobs in the construction stage and 50 when operational.

DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz said the conditional announcement of support for Cape Wind demonstrated the DOE’s and federal government’s strong commitment to creating a sizeable U.S. offshore wind industry.

This commitment is abundantly clear in another recent announcement opening 742,000 acres of ocean—located about 12 miles off the Massachusetts coast—to commercial wind leasing.

The area is the largest ever devoted to possible development of commercial-scale wind energy projects in federal waters, and it almost doubles the acreage available to such purposes within this jurisdiction. It is expected to be auctioned off in four leases.

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said the competitive lease process reflected extensive input from stakeholders such as commercial fisheries, the shipping industry, environmental groups, and local communities.

The Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has already awarded five commercial wind energy leases off the Atlantic coast, including the one currently being developed for the Cape Wind project.

Sales have generated about $5.4 million in high bids for about 277,550 acres in federal waters, and BOEM plans to hold additional auctions for tracts off the shores of Maryland and New Jersey later this year.

NASEO Releases Transportation Technical Reference Manual

The National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO) and the Vermont Energy Investment Corporation (VEIC), with support from the DOE’s Clean Cities program, recently developed a Transportation Technical Reference Manual to characterize energy savings and financial costs of selected transportation efficiency measures.

Although using standardized methodologies to measure the energy impacts and cost-effectiveness of efficiency programs is common practice in the electricity and thermal energy sectors, this is not the case for transportation. As electric vehicles spread nationwide, the electricity and transportation sectors have an increasing number of shared interests and an opportunity to learn from one another. One opportunity for knowledge transfer involves assessing the financial and environmental benefits of transportation measures, such as alternative fuel vehicles and fueling infrastructure, in the same way that energy utilities characterize efficiency measures and inform program development—namely, through a tool called the Technical Reference Manual. Inspired by this widely used model, NASEO and VEIC have developed the following Transportation Technical Reference Manual to characterize energy savings, environmental benefits, and financial costs of selected transportation efficiency measures and establish a framework for comprehensive and informed decision making.