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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.”

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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

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

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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Renewable Energy In Spain: From The ‘Sun Tax’ To The Promotion Of Collective Self-Consumption

Solar Panel

A few weeks before the general elections, the Spanish Government approved on Friday 5 a Royal Decree that regulates the new conditions for self-consumption of electricity, which encourage collective self-consumption and establishes a simplified mechanism for compensation of self-produced and unconsumed energy. The new energy regulation has put an end to the so-called ‘sun tax’ introduced by the conservative Popular Party in 2015 to tax the development of photovoltaic solar energy and self-consumption in Spain. From now on, Spain will be in line with its European neighbors and closer to achieving the EU’s energy targets for 2030.

Lower prices and new actors into the electrical system

Among the measures introduced by the Royal Decree, it stands out the authorization of the collective self-consumption which aims to benefit both households and small businesses. From now on, several consumers can be associated to the same installation of solar panels and it will be allowed to install photovoltaic panels in adjacent buildings that have better orientation, as long as there is an agreement between the members of both buildings. Also, the new regulation simplifies administrative procedures, and, in addition, it establishes a simplified mechanism for compensation of self-produced and unconsumed energy.

The Minister for the Ecological Transition, Teresa Ribera, foresees that the boost of self-consumption will have a “positive effect on the economic activity, on the electrical and energy system, and on consumers”, such as the reduction of the price of the electricity bill. According to the Government, the measures adopted will permit society to take advantage of the potential that solar energy can offer as it will provide an alternative to citizens and it will allow the entrance of new actors into the electrical system.

The EU put an end of the ‘sun tax’

With the new regulation, Spain leaves behind the era of punishment for energetic self-consumption. In November 2018 the Government of Pedro Sánchez took the first step repealing the so-called ‘sun tax’, approved by the previous Government of Mariano Rajoy in 2015. The controversial law that taxed self-consumption was not very well welcomed by the EU, where the fight against climate change has been at the center of the political agenda for years.

One of the declared priorities of the Commission of Energy and Climate Change, led by the Spanish commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete, was to promote the use of renewable energies and energy saving. However, for years the Government of the Popular Party (to which Cañete belongs) blocked the attempts to advance in the matter of renewable energy.

The turning point came with the motion of censure that removed Rajoy from power last summer. A few weeks later, the European Parliament and national governments agreed to increase from 27% to 32% the mandatory quota of energy from renewable sources by 2030 and prohibit Member States from imposing taxes on the self-consumed energy, as the Spanish ‘sun tax’, in order to comply with its obligations in the fight against climate change.

Climate change, a matter of political will

“Ambition in the fight against climate change is a political decision and the last-minute turn in the position of the Governments of Spain and Italy has shown it by making possible something that seemed impossible”, stated Greenpeace in a press release after the EU agreement in June 2018. Although Greenpeace considered that the renewable targets set for 2030 are still insufficient, the organization celebrated that for the first time the right of citizens to actively participate in the energy sector was recognized and, therefore, Spain was forced to derogate the ‘sun tax’.

For Green Peace, the agreement marks a before and after regarding the right of citizens, local authorities, small and medium enterprises and cooperatives to produce, consume, store and sell their own renewable energy, without being subject to punitive rates or excessive limitations. No matter the result of the general elections next April 28, Spain must now join the EU efforts to achieve a sustainable consume energy and from now on, Spaniards may have an important role to play not only as consumers but as responsible producers as well.

I’m a Spanish journalist graduated in law and politics, specialized in international journalism. Currently living in Brussels!

Source: Renewable Energy In Spain: From The ‘Sun Tax’ To The Promotion Of Collective Self-Consumption

Democratizing” Drinking Water by Taking it From Thin Air – Dan Millison

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Assuming healthy humans need 1 liter of Democratizing” Drinking Water by Taking it From Thin Airper day, daily drinking water consumption needs for the world’s 8 billion people could be met using only 0.000004% of the water vapor contained in the atmosphere.

In other words, water vapor is sufficient for 25 million times the Earth’s population. Given that the residence time of a water molecule in the lower atmosphere is 9-10 days, the atmosphere has more than 2 million times enough water to provide the world’s entire population.

The challenge is finding an affordable device to make that water vapor readily available in liquid form to the people who need it most – those that might rely on bottled water or otherwise don’t have reliable piped water supplies.

Enter a new technology—atmospheric water generators—which take water vapor from the atmosphere and convert it to liquid water. This technology comes in three forms.

Phase change devices can deliver climate-proof drinking water

The first is fog nets, a very low-tech system that has been used for centuries in parts of Latin America where intense fog occurs on a regular basis, and people capture water with fabric nets. Fog harvesting is a variation on rainwater harvesting, but it is not ideal for most countries in Asia and the Pacific; for instance, rainwater contamination from volcanic sulfur emissions makes it impossible in places like Vanuatu.

Another option is condensation or dehumidification. Refrigeration technology converts water vapor to liquid, but it’s not energy-efficient. There’s a high risk of air pollutants contaminating the water, so dehumidifiers are generally not marketed as drinking water appliances.

The third type of atmospheric water generation is phase change, or conversion of water vapor to liquid form. For a long time, researchers have been trying to figure out a way to exploit the enormous amount of water waiting to be harvested in the atmosphere. The goal is to make highly efficient and affordable phase change devices to extract water vapor from the atmosphere and convert it to liquid.

If we want climate-proof drinking water, we need something that does not impact ground water or surface water, so we need to look at phase change devices. Even better, the device should run on renewable energy.

Traditional support from development organizations for access to energy programs generally emphasizes productive end-use of energy. Some have piloted energy storage systems, but few (if any) have tried to cross over to cover food and/or water.

ADB pilot tackles energy-food-water nexus with hydropanels

In late 2016, ADB decided to bridge this gap by supporting a pilot project that addresses the energy-food-water nexus through atmospheric water generators.

We started looking at phase change powered by solar energy, by far the most abundant source of renewable energy. If we could mass-produce a reliable and affordable device, we have an infinitely scalable solution.  And then, if we could tick all these boxes and deliver these devices like common household appliances, we could essentially “democratize” drinking water.

As part of the pilot, US company Zero Mass Water installed 4 of their SOURCE “hydropanels” on the roof of ADB headquarters in May 2017. The panels, which use a combination of solar photovoltaic and solar thermal energy units coupled with a proprietary nano-technology, selectively adsorb water vapor from the atmosphere and de-sorbs water in liquid form – the same as distilled water.

The nano-technology works like a molecular sieve, common in industrial dehydration processes like dehydration of natural gas so that it can be injected into pipelines. The hydropanels produce “double-distilled” water that is passed through a mineral block so that the product is similar in taste and composition to high-end bottled water.

These units are intended for residential and domestic use in areas where consumers rely on bottled water due to unreliable or non-existent water services. They’re also a good option for places with suspect water quality.

Personal water ownership is like energy storage in a glass

The hydropanels produce 2-5 liters of water per day and have been deployed in a variety of climates, including the Sonora desert in the US and Mexico. ADB is supporting deployment of 40 SOURCE units in the Philippines and another 20 units in Vanuatu on a pilot basis to further assess its technical and economic viability.

Although other phase change devices are commercially available, most rely on an external power source (some run on diesel generator sets) or are too large for practical use at the residential level and remote locations. The SOURCE hydropanels are self-powered, self-contained, readily transportable, and designed for household-level services. ADB encourages such technologies for use in developing countries, particularly remote communities lacking adequate access to clean water.

Atmospheric water generators also have good potential for responding to natural disasters, when conventional water supply systems are destroyed or out of commission for several days.

The potential for re-inventing drinking water supply chains is intriguing. With this family of devices, drinking water for poor consumers can be decoupled from traditional water treatment and piped water infrastructure.

Personal water ownership is therefore possible, similar to what we are doing with distributed renewable energy systems. We can also think of this as energy storage in a glass. Either way, it’s shaping as a potentially path-breaking means of tackling water security challenges in developing Asia.

 

 

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