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The Secret Cost of Google’s Data Centers: Billions of Gallons of Water

In August 2019, the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association built a 16-foot pyramid of jugs in its main entrance in Phoenix. The goal was to show residents of this desert region how much water they each use a day—120 gallons—and to encourage conservation.

“We must continue to do our part every day,” executive director Warren Tenney wrote in a blog post. “Some of us are still high-end water users who could look for more ways to use water a bit more wisely.”

A few weeks earlier in nearby Mesa, Google proposed a plan for a giant data center among the cacti and tumbleweeds. The town is a founding member of the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association, but water conservation took a back seat in the deal it struck with the largest U.S. internet company. Google is guaranteed 1 million gallons a day to cool the data center, and up to 4 million gallons a day if it hits project milestones. If that was a pyramid of water jugs, it would tower thousands of feet into Arizona’s cloudless sky.

Alphabet’s Google is building more data centers across the U.S. to power online searches, web advertising and cloud services. The company has boasted for years that these huge computer-filled warehouses are energy efficient and environmentally friendly. But there’s a cost that the company tries to keep secret. These facilities use billions of gallons of water, sometimes in dry areas that are struggling to conserve this limited public resource.

“Data centers are expanding, they’re going everywhere. They need to be built in a way that ensures they are not taking critical resources away from water-scarce communities,” said Gary Cook, global climate campaigns director at Stand.earth, an environmental advocacy group.

Google considers its water use a proprietary trade secret and bars even public officials from disclosing the company’s consumption. But information has leaked out, sometimes through legal battles with local utilities and conservation groups. In 2019 alone, Google requested, or was granted, more than 2.3 billion gallons of water for data centers in three different states, according to public records posted online and legal filings.

Clashes over the company’s water use may increase as it chases Amazon.com Inc. and Microsoft Corp. in the booming cloud-computing market. Google has 21 data center locations currently. After pumping $13 billion into offices and data centers in 2019, it plans to spend another $10 billion across the U.S. this year.

“The race for data centers to keep up with it all is pretty frantic,” said Kevin Kent, chief executive officer of consulting firm Critical Facilities Efficiency Solutions. “They can’t always make the most environmentally best choices.”

Google often puts data centers close to large population hubs to help its web services respond quickly. Sometimes that means building in hot and dry regions. The processing units inside heat up easily and water is needed to cool them down.

“We strive to build sustainability into everything we do,” said Gary Demasi, senior director of energy and location operations at Google. “We’re proud that our data centers are some of the most efficient in the world, and we have worked to reduce their environmental impact even as demand for our products has dramatically risen.”

In Red Oak, Texas, a town about 20 miles south of Dallas, Google wants as much as 1.46 billion gallons of water a year for a new data center by 2021, according to a legal filing. Ellis County, which includes Red Oak and roughly 20 other towns, will need almost 15 billion gallons this year for everything from irrigation to residential use, data from the Texas Water Development Board show.

Many parts of Texas are already seeing high water demand, according to Venki Uddameri, director of the water resources center at Texas Tech University. “With climate change, we are expected to have more prolonged droughts,” he said. “These kinds of water-intensive operations add to the local stress.”

Water-scarce cities have to make trade-offs between conservation and economic development, and cash-rich Google is a big draw. “It’s a constant battle in Texas because of wanting both,” said Uddameri.

In August, Google filed a petition with the Public Utility Commission of Texas to strip a local utility in Red Oak, Rockett Special Utility District, of its federal right to be the sole water supplier to the property. Google said it filed the petition after Rockett confirmed it doesn’t have the capacity to meet the company’s demands. If approved, the petition would let Google get water from another provider.

Rockett contested this in a legal response and said Google provided little information on how the water will be used, both in its application to the utility and in “vague” conversations involving company representatives. Despite that, Google made “incessant” requests for the utility to assess if it can meet the company’s water needs, Rockett said in legal filings. Google paid Rockett to do a report on whether the utility could provide enough water for the project. That report has not been submitted and the internet company has been pressing the utility to complete it, according to Google.

Rockett brought a case against Texas’ public utility commissioners for refusing to dismiss Google’s petition despite being aware of the utility’s rights. A Google entity, Alamo Mission LLC, is named as a defendant in the case. Lawyers for Rockett declined to comment on the ongoing case. Google says it’s not the only one looking for an alternative to Rockett. Another development in Red Oak is also seeking an alternate water supply, according to the company.

The planned data center in Red Oak would be Google’s second in Texas. It struck a deal with the city in July 2019. Red Oak officials told residents about Google’s plans ahead of time, according to Todd Fuller, the city manager. There wasn’t much concern about the impact the data center could have on local resources including water, according to Fuller. “Our water system is pretty robust,” he said, adding that the city doesn’t use its full water capacity.

Red Oak isn’t so laid back about water use on its website, though. On a page dedicated to water conservation, the city says it gets half its water supply from Dallas and encourages residents to reduce water use because Dallas’ six reservoirs are 18% depleted. Mandatory water restrictions will kick in if those sources become 35% depleted. Fuller did not respond to requests for comment on the matter.

Google said it doesn’t use all the water it requests, but the company must make sure enough is available for periods of high demand, or when the weather’s particularly hot. That’s necessary to keep internet services reliable, according to the company.

Google’s data center water use became a subject of controversy last year in Berkeley County, South Carolina. An environmental group opposed the company’s request for 1.5 million gallons of groundwater a day from what it said was a “historically threatened” source.

The company has also worked with Berkeley County Water & Sanitation to get 5 million gallons a day from the Charleston Water system. Google said its share of this supply is far less than 5 million gallons a day, with the rest available for the broader community.

Google has been trying to secure the 1.5 million gallons—triple the daily amount it’s currently allowed in Berkeley County—since 2016. The Coastal Conservation League took issue with Google’s refusal to share information on how it will be using the extra water. Despite the opposition, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control granted Google’s request, triggering a backlash from some residents.

The conservation league called out the DHEC for giving Google so much water while asking a local public utility, Mount Pleasant Waterworks, to reduce its withdrawal from the aquifer by 57% over the next four years. The utility exceeded its previous peak use demand by 25% in May 2019, one of the driest months last year in Berkeley County, according to Clay Duffie, general manager of Mount Pleasant Waterworks.

“It’s unfair that the DHEC is asking us to reduce our water withdrawal while someone like Google can come in and ask for three times more than their original permit and get it,” Duffie said.

Google eventually backed off its groundwater request and reached an agreement with the league to only use it as a last resort. The deal still lets the company withdraw groundwater if there’s a shortfall, when conducting maintenance, or when demand exceeds available potable or storm water supplies during peak user activity.

The Arizona town of Mesa, where Google plans a 750,000 square-foot data center, gets half its water from the drought-prone Colorado River. A contingency plan was signed into law last year requiring states dependent on the river to take voluntary conservation measures. Still, Mesa officials say they remain confident about future supply while continuing to remind residents to limit their water consumption. “We do not have any immediate concerns,” said Kathy Macdonald, a water resources planning adviser with the city. In 2019, Mesa used 28 billion gallons of water, according to Macdonald. City officials expect that to reach 60 billion gallons a year by 2040, a demand Mesa is capable of meeting, she said.

Big companies like Google wouldn’t locate to the city if it couldn’t meet their water demands, Macdonald said. Mesa passed an ordinance in 2019 to ensure sustainable water use by large operations and fine them if they exceed their allowance.

Google has toiled for years to reduce the carbon footprint of data centers. Today, the facilities churn out a lot more computer power for every watt of energy used. In its 2019 environmental report, the company argued that reducing its energy use also makes it more water-efficient. “Generating electricity requires water, so the less energy we use to power our data centers, the less water we use as well,” it said.

However, data center experts say there’s usually a trade-off between water and energy use. “If the water consumption goes down, energy consumption goes up and vice versa,” said Otto Van Geet, a principal engineer at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Google relies on “evaporative cooling,” which evaporates water to cool the air around the processing units stacked inside data centers, according to its environmental report. The most common systems, known as computer room air conditioners, are energy intensive. Evaporative cooling uses less energy, but the process requires more water. Operators will often embrace the thirstier approach because it’s less expensive, said Cook from Stand.earth.

“Water’s cheap. In many places, the energy costs are much higher” he added.

In a data center application the company filed in Henderson, Nevada, in 2018, Google’s considerations included utility and real estate costs, tax incentives and availability of qualified workers.

Google has paid more attention to water use in recent years. It relies on recycled water or seawater where it can to avoid using drinking water or draining local supplies. Google also says it saves water by recirculating it through cooling systems multiple times. In Mesa, the company is working with authorities on a water credits program, but said it’s too early to share more details.

From 2007 to 2012, Google used regular drinking water to cool its data center in Douglas County, just outside Atlanta. After realizing the water “didn’t need to be clean enough to drink,” the company shifted to recycled water to help conserve the nearby Chattahoochee River. It’s difficult to use similar approaches for other data center locations because the required technology isn’t always available, according to the company.

“The Chattahoochee provides drinking water, public greenspace and recreational activities for millions of people,” the company said in a blog post at the time. “We’re glad to do our part in creating an environmentally sustainable economy along the shores of the Hooch.”

Source: The Secret Cost of Google’s Data Centers: Billions of Gallons of Water

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This Bill Gates-Backed Solar Startup Just Had a Breakthrough That Could Cut the World’s Carbon Emissions by 20 Percent​

Los Angeles-based startup Heliogen, backed by Bill Gates and AOL founder Steve Case just announced that it has found a way to replace fossil fuels in industrial plants. Those plants produce more than 20 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, but Heliogen’s new concentrated solar technology may change that. It can create heat over 1,000 degrees Celsius, potentially replacing much of the fossil fuels these plants currently use.

You wouldn’t think that making something really, really, really hot would be the best way to fight climate change. But it is, because the production of steel, cement, and petrochemicals among others requires heating them to very high temperatures. Up till now, the only way to achieve this was with fossil fuels such as coal, gas, and oil.

For decades, the solar industry has been trying to produce the high temperatures needed for such manufacturing with concentrated solar–basically a very much larger version of the experiment you probably did as a child, starting a fire using sunlight and a magnifying glass. Concentrated solar companies have traditionally used hundreds of mirrors to reflect the sun’s beams onto a single spot.

It requires a great deal of precision and engineering skill to determine the precise angle of each mirror in order to point the beam at exactly the right spot, and then to keep changing the mirror’s position as the sun moves across the sky. Despite its best efforts, the concentrated solar industry was never able to create temperatures higher than 600 degrees Celsius, which is certainly very hot, but not hot enough for things like steel or cement manufacture.

Heliogen’s breakthrough is that, rather than trying to predict precisely where the sun’s beams will land, it uses cameras to observe where sunbeams are going and make minute adjustments several times per second in order to keep the mirrors pointed in precisely the right direction.

Using this approach, Heliogen says it’s been able to achieve temperatures of more than 1,000 Celsius. And that was on its first try. The company believes it can produce temperatures above 1,500 Celsius–enough to split water molecules and produce hydrogen fuel. That could solve hydrogen fuel’s biggest problem, which is that the energy needed to produce it negates any environmental gains from using it.

Cement alone contributes 8 percent of greenhouse gases

“I don’t know how many people will understand how significant breaking 1,000 C is,” Heliogen founder Bill Gross told GeekWire. Gross is a serial entrepreneur who also founded the tech incubator Idealab. [Disclosure: I am also a GeekWire contributor.] Here’s why Gross said getting above 1,000 using solar is such a big deal: “There’s all these things that happen above 1,000 C. Cement is made above 1,000 C. Steel is made above 1,000 C.

Hydrogen is made above 1,000 C.” But, he added, even if the lay person isn’t particularly excited by what Heliogen has achieved, “In the industry, it’s going to be really, really spectacular.” He added that cement production alone accounts for 8 percent of global CO2 emissions so a switch to concentrated solar in that industry alone would have a huge impact.

Gross said he was inspired to start Heliogen after attending Bill Gates’ 2010 TEDx talk in Long Beach, California, “Innovating to zero!” In the talk, Gates said that if he could be granted a single wish for the next 50 years, it would be for someone to invent a technology that would lower the cost of energy and eliminate CO2 emissions at the same time. Afterward, Gross went up to Gates and expressed his interest in working on such a technology.

Gates invited Gross to Seattle for a brainstorming session during which Gates and Gross bounced around ideas with other Gates Foundation leaders. “We talked about all the different ways that this could happen, and that was the beginning of thinking through the different technical challenges and ways to pull this off,” Gross said. “And he’s just been fantastic. Of course he’s going around the world telling everybody about this.”

Heliogen’s technological breakthrough depends in part on the growing availability and affordability of GPU, or graphic processing units, something that gamers need to play today’s graphically intense games. So if Heliogen succeeds in its mission to replace fossil fuels in high-heat manufacturing and eliminate a signficant portion of carbon emissions? You may have kids playing Fortnite to thank.

By Minda ZetlinCo-author, The Geek Gap

Source: This Bill Gates-Backed Solar Startup Just Had a Breakthrough That Could Cut the World’s Carbon Emissions by 20 Percent​

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… , With Momentum Toward Commercial Hydrogen Fuel Creation Heliogen – Replacing Fuels with Sunlight https://www.businesswire.com/news/hom…

Huge Battery Investments Drop Energy-Storage Costs Faster Than Expected, Threatening Natural Gas

The global energy transition is happening faster than the models predicted, according to a report released today by the Rocky Mountain Institute, thanks to massive investments in the advanced-battery technology ecosystem.

Previous and planned investments total $150 billion through 2023, RMI calculates—the equivalent of every person in the world chipping in $20. In the first half of 2019 alone, venture-capital firms contributed $1.4 billion to energy storage technology companies.

“These investments will push both Li-ion and new battery technologies across competitive thresholds for new applications more quickly than anticipated,” according to RMI. “This, in turn, will reduce the costs of decarbonization in key sectors and speed the global energy transition beyond the expectations of mainstream global energy models.”

Today In: Innovation

RMI’s “Breakthrough Batteries” report anticipates “self-reinforcing feedback loops” between public policy, manufacturing, research and development, and economies of scale. Those loops will drive battery performance higher while pushing costs as low as $87/kWh by 2025. (Bloomberg put the current cost at $187/kwh earlier this year.)

“These changes are already contributing to cancellations of planned natural-gas power generation,” states the report. “The need for these new natural-gas plants can be offset through clean-energy portfolios (CEPs) of energy storage, efficiency, renewable energy, and demand response.”

New natural-gas plants risk becoming stranded assets (unable to compete with renewables+storage before they’ve paid off their capital cost), while existing natural-gas plants cease to be competitive as soon as 2021, RMI predicts.

RMI analysts expect lithium-ion to remain the dominant battery technology through 2023, steadily improving in performance, but then they anticipate a suite of advanced battery technologies coming online to cater to specific uses:

Heavier transport will use solid-state batteries such as rechargeable zinc alkaline, Li-metal, and Li- sulfur. The electric grid will adopt low-cost and long-duration batteries such as zinc-based, flow, and high-temperature batteries. And when EVs become ubiquitous—raising the demand for fast charging—high-power batteries will proliferate.

Many of these alternative battery technologies will leap from the lab to the marketplace by 2030, the report predicts.

Some of these changes will be driven outside the U.S., specifically in countries like India, Indonesia and the Philippines that prefer smaller vehicles. Read More: Why The U.S. Will Lag Behind The Global Transition To Electric Vehicles.

RMI analyzed the four major energy-storage markets—China, the U.S., the European Union and India—and found two major trends that apply to each: 1) “Mobility markets are driving the demand and the cost declines,” and 2) “the nascent grid storage market is about to take off.”

China dominates the market for electric vehicles and solar photovoltaic technologies, thanks to early, large and consistent investment. The RMI report notes that China also has an advantage in upstream ore processing, critical materials and component manufacturing.

The report does not, however, explore what happens should China weaponize those advantages in the trade war, restricting or embargoing imports of critical materials to the U.S.

“An expanded trade war looms large over all industries and the entire global economy and is not in the interest of either the U.S. or China, and it is unproductive to speculate on the potential scope or outcomes of a battery or minerals-related action,” two of the report’s four authors, Charlie Bloch and James Newcomb, told me in an email.

“China is no doubt aware of the long-term economic opportunity associated with being a reliable manufacturer of batteries and the risk that escalating trade war actions by either side could damage the US-China economic relationship in this important area.”

They added that manufacturers, investors, start-ups, and government officials are taking steps to mitigate the potential impact of such a risk, such as continued development of low- and no-cobalt batteries chemistries.

For more about China’s hold on critical minerals, read 4 Reasons The Developed World Is In Big Trouble With Critical Minerals.

9 Worries That Keep The Natural-Gas Magnates Awake At Night

Forbes Jeff McMahon

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I’ve covered the energy and environment beat since 1985, when I discovered my college was discarding radioactive waste in a dumpster. That story ran in the Arizona Republic, and I have chased electrons and pollutants ever since, for dailies in Arizona and California, for alternative weeklies including New Times and Newcity, for online innovators such as The Weather Channel’s Forecast Earth project, The New York Times Company’s LifeWire syndicate, and True/Slant—the prototype for the new Forbes. I’ve wandered far afield—to cover the counterrevolutionary war in Nicaragua, the World Series Earthquake in San Francisco, the UN Climate Change Conferences in Copenhagen and Paris. I also teach journalism, argument and scientific writing at the University of Chicago. Email me here: jeffmcmahon.com/contact-jeff-mcmahon/

Source: Huge Battery Investments Drop Energy-Storage Costs Faster Than Expected, Threatening Natural Gas

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Which battery metal will offer the biggest return for investors? Watch as Chris Parry from Equity.Guru discusses with Mitchell Smith, President & CEO of Global Energy Metals Corporation (TSXV: GEMC), Larry Reaugh, CEO of American Manganese Inc. (TSXV: AMY) and A. Paul Gill, CEO of Lomiko Metals Inc. (TSXV: LMR). Join us at an upcoming event! http://www.cambridgehouse.com Stay Connected! http://www.cambridgehouse.com/ https://twitter.com/cambridge https://www.facebook.com/cambridgehou… Copyright © 2018 Cambridge House International Inc. All rights reserved.

Before We Talk About Green Energy, Let’s Talk About Batteries

A new report from the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Energy seeks to assess the signs of whether there will be a gradual or a rapid “energy transition.”  In other words, will global economies switch from fossil fuels to renewable energies slowly or all at once?

The report takes for granted that the world will transition to using renewable energies—mainly solar and wind—by the middle of this century. However, the report omits a crucial piece of technological development from its forecast: batteries.

The few times batteries are mentioned, they are generally referred to as “storage,” because batteries are essentially just storage containers for electricity or power. The report draws conclusion like, “Even as penetration [of renewable power] rises, technologies such as storage and demand response are likely to make higher levels of penetration cheaper.”

This is serious flaw with the conclusions and forecasts because we do not yet have that technology to make better and cheaper batteries, and we don’t know when or if we will.

Solar and wind offer the promise of a plentiful, clean power. Yet, we still need to improve the efficiency of their power production, and we need to find a way to effectively store the power they produce. The wind does not always blow, and the sun does not always shine.

If and when we find the ability to store the excess power created by wind and solar (and hydro and nuclear and anything else), we will be well on our way to much cleaner energy production. Right now our batteries cannot store that kind of power over the long term, regularly recharge, and last for years.

Someday, someone will invent the new generation of batteries that will revolutionize energy use. When they do, the transition to renewable energy will surely be rapid. This breakthrough could be as close as a few years away. Or perhaps it won’t come for decades.

However, making assumptions about the speed at which global economies can transition away from fossil fuels without a revolution in battery technology is just wishful thinking. Investment and innovation in battery and energy storage technology is still needed before we can transition away from fossil fuels.

Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Check out my website.

I’m an energy historian writing about how governments and energy businesses interact globally. My work looks at how policy, wars, diplomacy, the stock market, oil pricing, and innovation impact the future of energy. I am the president of Transversal Consulting, a firm that provides consulting on energy and geopolitics to a range of industries. I am also a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council. My book, Saudi, Inc., (Pegasus Books, 2018) covers the history and policy of Aramco and Saudi Arabia.

Source: Before We Talk About Green Energy, Let’s Talk About Batteries

How will green energy change our future? What will our future look like with green energy? The growth of green energy goes together with change. Our future will not only include green energy, but our future will also be shaped by it. What will the future sustainable world look like? That is the big question, now that the global transition towards sustainable energy is gaining momentum. For the growth of sustainable energy involves a lot more changes than just the color of the power supplied to our homes. How will we build, how will our mobility be impacted, and will energy, one day, be free? Just like the Internet turned out to have an unforeseen influence on all kinds of industries, from music to taxi businesses, the transition towards sustainable energy will also rise beyond the energy sector. And with a much wider impact than is now assumed. But we know surprisingly little about what that world will look like, and how the people in it will live, work and move around. Expectations are that, by the 2050s, two-thirds of the electricity generated globally will be sustainable. The Netherlands is ambitious too. But what kind of world are we heading for, really, with all these sustainable measures? In partial areas, the future is clear: a massive stop to the use of gas, lots of windmills and solar panels, and perhaps a self-driving car outside. But, for now, there is no wider vision of what the sustainable new world will look like. What will the world be like once energy has become practically free? What will the impact of the transition towards sustainable energy be on the balance of power in the world? A journey along places where the sustainable future is already (nearly) visible. In China, for example, old collapsed coal mines are given a new destination as solar parks. In Denmark, the power plants of the future also serve as skiing slopes. And in Malmö, Sweden, new leases are signed with green fingers. Original title: Voorbij de groene horizon With: Bjarke Ingels (architect, BIG Copenhagen), Peggy Liu (green pioneer JUCCCE Shanghai) and Varun Sivaram (author ‘Taming the Sun’ and expert clean energy technology Council on Foreign Relations in Washington DC). Originally broadcasted by VPRO in 2018. © VPRO Backlight October 2018 On VPRO broadcast you will find nonfiction videos with English subtitles, French subtitles and Spanish subtitles, such as documentaries, short interviews and documentary series. VPRO Documentary publishes one new subtitled documentary about current affairs, finance, sustainability, climate change or politics every week. We research subjects like politics, world economy, society and science with experts and try to grasp the essence of prominent trends and developments. Subscribe to our channel for great, subtitled, recent documentaries. Visit additional youtube channels bij VPRO broadcast: VPRO Broadcast, all international VPRO programs: https://www.youtube.com/VPRObroadcast VPRO DOK, German only documentaries: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCBi0… VPRO Metropolis, remarkable stories from all over the world: https://www.youtube.com/user/VPROmetr… VPRO World Stories, the travel series of VPRO: https://www.youtube.com/VPROworldstories VPRO Extra, additional footage and one off’s: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCTLr… http://www.VPRObroadcast.com Credits: Director: Martijn Kieft Research:William de Bruijn Camera: Jacko van´t Hof, Hans Bouma, Remco Bikkers Sound: Cloud Wang, Mark Witte, Dennis Kersten Fixer China: Liyan Ma Edit: Michiel Hazebroek, Jeroen van den Berk Online Editor: Sanne Stevens Production: Jeroen Beumer Commissioning Editors: Marije Meerman, Doke Romeijn English, French and Spanish subtitles: Ericsson. French and Spanish subtitles are co-funded by European Union.

Net Zero Natural Gas Plant The Game Changer

NET Power’s 50 MWth Demonstration Plant in La Porte, Texas.

An actual game changing technology is being demonstrated as we sit in our air-conditioned abodes reading this. And it is being demonstrated by North Carolina–based Net Power at a new plant in La Porte, Texas.

The process involves burning fossil fuel with oxygen instead of air to generate electricity without emitting any carbon dioxide (CO2). Not using air also avoids generating NOx, the main atmospheric and health contaminant emitted from gas plants.

Included in a group of technologies known as carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), zero-emission fossil fuel plants have been a dream never realized in practice, as it always seems to cost a lot, adding between 5¢ and 10¢ per kWh. This is probably because most attempts just add on another step after the traditional electricity generation steps, almost as an afterthought.

Some fossil fuel plants have tried, and failed, the most famous one recently being the $7.5 billion coal power plant in Kemper, Mississippi.

But this new technology completely changes the steps and the approach from the ground up. It is based on the Allam Cycle, a new, high-pressure, oxy-fuel, supercritical CO2 cycle that generates low-cost electricity from fossil fuels while producing near-zero air emissions.

All CO2 that is generated by the cycle is produced as a high-pressure, pipeline-ready by-product for use in enhanced oil recovery and industrial processes, or that can be sequestered underground in tight geologic formations where it will not get out to the atmosphere for millions of years.

The Allam Cycle also means the power plant is a lot smaller and can be sited in more areas than older plants can.

The Allam Cycle of Net Power’s new zero-emission natural gas plant.

The Allam Cycle of Net Power’s new zero-emission natural gas plant.

Net Power

This 50 MW Texas plant is demonstrating that the technology works, especially to investors. So the project has some heavy hitters as partners – Exelon Generation will operate the plant, the infrastructure firm CB&I will provide engineering and construction, 8 Rivers Capital, Net Power’s parent will provide continuing technology development, and Toshiba will develop the key components, particularly its new CO2-turbine.

Most power plants rely on thermal power cycles for energy production. These systems create heat by burning fossil fuel using the oxygen in air. In coal plants, this takes place in a large boiler, where coal is burned and water is boiled to create high pressure steam.  This high-pressure steam then expands through a steam turbine, creating power.

In combined cycle gas turbine power plants, natural gas or coal syngas is burned in a combustor with compressed air. The heated gases then expand and drive a gas turbine. The turbine exhaust is extremely hot, so it is subsequently used to boil water to create high pressure steam and drive a steam turbine, thereby combining cycles. In both systems, aqueous steam is essential to the process as a working fluid.

Not so in an Allum Cycle plant like Net Power’s. At their Texas demonstration plant, the natural gas is burned with a mixture of hot CO2 and oxygen, known as oxy-combustion. The resulting working fluid is a mix of high-pressure CO2 and water, which is subsequently expanded through a turbine and then cooled in a heat exchanger (a recuperator).

This is key. The turbine is not turned with steam, but with CO2.

The water then condenses and is separated out, leaving a pure vapor-phase CO2 stream. That stream is compressed and pumped back up to high pressure for re-use, but the excess CO2 is sent to a pipeline, ready for export.

The remaining fluid stream is reheated in the recuperator and makes its way back to the combustor, where the hot, high-pressure CO2 helps the combustor achieve a final inlet temperature of about 1,150°C as it combusts with fresh natural gas and oxygen, the high temperature raising the efficiency significantly.

The plant can also be air-cooled, at the cost of a little efficiency, to avoid water use in arid regions and to actually produce water from the methane and oxygen.

By using a CO2 working fluid at very high pressures as opposed to steam, NET Power avoids the phase changes that cause steam cycles to be so inefficient. Instead of driving a steam cycle and losing heat energy up a stack, NET Power keeps heat within the system, meaning less fuel is needed for the turbine to reach the required operating temperature.

And they don’t even have a stack.

Federal tax credits for carbon-capture projects are helping get this demonstration off the ground, providing a $50 tax credit for every ton of carbon sequestered. The NET Power plant captures all of its CO2 as part of its process, recycles some and diverts some for sale.

Adam Goff, a principal at NET Power’s parent company, discussed how this technology will really make a difference to global warming – in developing countries. These countries desperately need energy and are planning to install thousands of traditional coal plants, representing the largest potential increase in carbon emissions over the next several decades.

Said Goff, “…most projects aren’t going to be in the U.S. They’re going to be in your developing countries in Asia and in Africa, so you’re going to see China, India, Indonesia. To do that you have to be really cheap. You have to be at cost parity if not better than cost parity with conventional generation.”

The CO2 angle is very unique. NET Power’s plant produces a high-pressure, high-quality CO2 byproduct that is pipeline-ready. This CO2 can be sequestered or used in industrial processes, such as enhanced oil recovery. EOR is a decades-old process that uses CO2 to extract significantly more oil from old oilfields while permanently storing CO2 underground. In the United States alone, 85 billion barrels of oil are recoverable using EOR.

Most industrial CO2 capture technologies cannot produce cost-effective, EOR-ready CO2, despite the fact that the industry is tremendously CO2-starved. NET Power will have both the capacity and economics to enable the EOR industry to unlock this vast resource while simultaneously sequestering CO2 from thousands of power plants below ground.

And it is the sequestering of CO2 that is probably the most difficult part of this process. Yes, we can use CO2 now, but if we go to these net zero plants in a big way, we don’t have enough industrial need for all the CO2 from generating trillions of kWhs every year.

So it will have to be injected underground, and so far that hasn’t been successful in any big way without some side effects, like earthquakes. But that is a geoengineering need we can address.

The cost of electricity generated by Net Power is even more interesting. The plant doesn’t just sell power like most plants, it also sells the CO2 and other cycle by-products including nitrogen and argon.

These sales bring the cost of electricity from NET Power’s plant down to 1.9¢ per kilowatt hour, Goff said, compared to 4.2¢ for a traditional combined cycle natural gas plant, making this the cheapest source of electricity, and with no carbon emissions.

If the plant in La Porte performs as expected, and as it has so far, this is a real game changer for natural gas. Since the United States is sitting on more natural gas than any country in the world, and it’s getting cheaper to get it out of the ground, this is no small game to change.

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I have been a scientist in the field of the earth and environmental sciences for 33 years, specializing in geologic disposal of nuclear waste, energy-related research

Source: Net Zero Natural Gas Plant — The Game Changer

In South America, Utilities’ Digital Transformation Starts With Culture

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Abastible has been providing energy to its customers in Chile since 1956. A subsidiary of the holding company Empresas Copec S.A., Abastible is one of the country’s three main utility providers and was recently recognized as the leader in corporate reputation for the third year running.

But to keep its good standing with customers, Abastible knew it needed to innovate, which included a pivot towards renewable energy sources. Paulina Toro, human resources manager at Abastible, says “Our management decided that gas-powered electricity was not enough in this world. We needed to create clean energy alternatives as well.”

The company also know it needed to deliver great customer experiences by creating offerings that made their lives easier and more efficient. Management viewed digital transformation as the key to innovation.

Toro explains that adopting digital technologies would also help create new business models to spur growth and gain new customers. “For us, digital transformation is about survival and continuing to gain customers,” she says.

If Abastible kept the same business model, the company feared it would inhibit growth. With the expansion of the company across South America to Colombia, Peru and Ecuador, Abastible had prioritized innovation to help it compete for both B2B and B2C consumers in these markets.

One example of Abastible’s customer-focused innovation is an app that allows people to order propane gas, measure how much is left in their cylinder (in Latin America gas is delivered to homes and businesses in cylinders,) or check their account at any time. Previously, these activities required a phone call to customer service during regular business hours.

But Toro points out that Abastible’s efforts to become more customer focused and think digitally about innovation required a culture shift using SAP SuccessFactors’ cloud-based human capital management solutions to help build a more innovative mindset.

“SuccessFactors helps us to be much closer to people. It also supports our employees’ effort to have more agility in all the operations,” says Toro. Previously, her team used a manual system to engage with employees. Now they have education and self-service tools – all available on mobile devices. She continues, “People see us differently, more available to help people.”

But more important, she says that since the system went live late last year, “the perception is that SAP Success Factors is helping employees to think digitally. Because we’ve moved to self-service digital HR processes, it’s helped build a digital mentality amongst employees.” In future, Toro hopes that SAP solutions will help management to understand what employees think and feel about various corporate initiatives.

Abastible also uses SAP for its enterprise resource planning (ERP); the Colombian subsidiary has deployed SAP S/4HANA, the latest version of SAP’s flagship ERP suite.

Meanwhile, in Argentina, Edenor is the biggest power company with 3 million customers in Buenos Aires city and the northern area of the country, and 5,000 employees. The company has used SAP since 1997 for core business functions including field operations and maintenance of its powerlines. SAP solutions also form the IT backbone that supports all back office and administrative activities.

Like Abastible, Edenor is undergoing a digital transformation and similarly, cultural change is critically important. Luis Lenkiewicz, Chief Information Officer, says, “The company is changing its internal culture. Before we were oriented to the field, not the client. Now we’re more focused on our customers.”

He explains that the company has had to adapt to new government regulations for utilities in Argentina. Since the economic crisis of 2001, the government had subsidized and set energy tariffs. “But two years ago, the new government deregulated our industry and we were able to set prices. So now we need to focus on the client experience. This has really impacted our process, culture and technology,” says Lenkiewicz.

Industry experts also see a corporate trend towards becoming more customer focused across Latin American. “In Latin America, 37 percent of businesses mentioned that their digital transformation goals are aligned at the enterprise level to near-term strategy — and include digital customer product and experience initiatives,” said Juan Pablo Seminara, program manager for consumer and enterprise research in Latin American at analyst firm, IDC.

Lenkiewicz explains, “We’re trying to become a customer-focused company so it’s really important to have the technology to support those processes.” SAP Success Factors and SAP Jam Collaboration (a cloud-based collaboration tool,) have helped the company align employees towards its new mission and encouraged them to work together, breaking down silos across departments.

In one example of early success, the company has optimized its supply chain. Now, with a more efficient way to predict and procure the materials required to create power, Edenor can provide better customer service and respond to problems more efficiently. For example, if a blackout occurs, the team has the resources it needs to restore power more quickly.

Moving forward, the Edenor team is working with partner, Edison, to map out a digital footprint for all its business processes. This will help improve and simplify workflows, allowing Edenor to increase agility and provide a better experience for customers.

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I’ve been in the technology industry for over 15 years, communicating stories about products, innovation and corporate social responsibility. I’m passionate about technology – how it works, how it impacts people and how it can be used for social good. Before my career in tech, I was pursuing my PhD in American History. Connect with me on Twitter here: @robin_meyerhoff

How Scientists Are Tapping Algae & Plant Waste To Fuel A Sustainable Energy Future -The New York Times

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The water isn’t for drinking. It’s salty, warm and thick with microscopic algae: tiny organisms that might be the future of green energy. In a world that relies on oil, fuels made from these organisms could offer a lower-carbon alternative to diesel, providing cleaner energy for trucks, planes, boats and pretty much anything else with a diesel fuel tank. “We’re working to decrease our overall carbon footprint,” says Kelsey McNeely, who leads ExxonMobil’s biofuels research and development. “I think that’s why we recognize fuels made from algae and plant-based sources could be part of the solution……..

Read more: https://www.nytimes.com/paidpost/exxonmobil/the-future-of-energy-it-may-come-from-where-you-least-expect.html?%2520tbs_nyt=2018-Oct-nytoffsite_pocket&cpv_dsm_id=190678299&sr_source=lift_pocket

 

 

 

 

 

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