Public Citizen Tom “Smitty” Smith Looks Back on a Life Well Lived


The appearance of Public Citizen Execu­tive Director Tom Smith at the November meeting of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club was not unusual in form. The man known universally as "Smitty" schmoozed with the group in the crowded back room of Scholz Garten, waited through the regular meeting business, and eventually walked to the speaker's platform to deliver a talk on the latest Texas and Austin developments in renewable energy. Smitty recalled, "the first time I ever lobbied ... with a bunch of Sierrans defending Barton Springs from balls of goo," and at least a few people in the room also recalled that battle.

"We're winning the war on coal," Smitty began, introducing the latest Public Citizen report on energy production in Texas, citing research that represented not only the environmental advantages of wind and solar, but the growing economic muscle of the once "alternative" energy resources. We've reached "the beginning of the end" of reliance on coal and other fossil fuels, he continued, noting the persistently low natural gas prices that have undermined the market logic of coal, the growth of wind resources, and his expectation that 12 of the 19 existing Texas coal plants will be retired by 2022, with the solar industry now the 26th largest in Texas.

Here in Austin, Smitty continued, the eventual closure of the coal-fired Fayette Power Plant has become imminent, not only because of its environmental consequences, but because his research reflects that Fayette is now losing about $30 million a year. (Austin Energy owns a one-third interest in Fayette.)

Moreover, the city of Austin has become increasingly committed to reducing its carbon emissions, with updated Resource, Generation, and Climate Protection Plans intended to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2030. Smitty also delivered a thumbnail history of the Texas environmental movement – against nukes, to protect local resources, and to fight climate change – and he credited his audience for providing the activist legwork. All of this was possible, he told the Sierrans, "because of the organizing we did in Austin and Texas."

It was vintage Smitty: the casual manner and good humor; the bar graphs reflecting resource and economic analysis, energy analytics combined with political commentary. Most especially, the optimism – the absolute conviction that with enough public spirit and hard work, all things are possible.

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TREIA President Melissa Miller: Keynote Speaker at Oil + Renewables-What Alberta Can Learn From Texas


Texas is an oil-producing state with a deregulated electricity market. Alberta is an oil-producing province with a deregulated electricity market. However, Texas is well ahead of Alberta when it comes to embracing the renewable energy revolution. 
It has the most wind energy installed out of any state in the nation. In March of this year wind energy provided 48 per cent of Texas' electricity needs. Just in August of this year almost 300 megawatts of utility scale solar was installed and in 2017 and there is more than 1800 megawatts of utility scale solar in the queue, ready to go. 
Renewable energy is not a red or blue partisan issue in Texas. It is business. And Alberta has a lot we can learn from our southern cousins. So how did this oil producing state with a conservative streak end up being a renewable energy leader? That's why Progress Alberta brought up Melissa Miller, president of the Texas Renewable Energy Industries Alliance to speak. 

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Texas Tech Researchers and Innovation Showcased in Georgetown, Texas


Texas Tech researchers recently were represented at the Texas Renewable Energy Industries Alliance's annual conference, GridNEXT. The conference, held November 9-11 in the 100% renewable Georgetown, Texas, showcased seven winners from Texas Tech's GLEAMM Challenge held in September at the Innovation Hub at Research Park.

On display in Georgetown were TTU innovated technologies and partnerships in the field of renewable energy and grid modernization. Everything from an ensemble weather forecasting technology to a heart rate occupancy sensor were showcased. During the conference, TREIA held a reception individually showcasing and honoring each of the projects and technologies. Throughout the conference, the teams were able to network with over 200 industry attendees and draw significant outside interest in their projects.

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NREL-High Renewable Electricity Growth Continued in 2015


The 2015 Renewable Energy Data Book shows that U.S. renewable electricity grew to 16.7 percent of total installed capacity and 13.8 percent of total electricity generation during the past year. Published annually by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) on behalf of the Energy Department's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the data book illustrates U.S. and global energy statistics, including renewable electricity generation, renewable energy development, clean energy investments, and technology-specific data and trends.
"Since it was first released in 2009, the Renewable Energy Data Book has provided useful insights for policymakers, analysts, and investors," NREL Energy Analyst Philipp Beiter said. "The 2015 version of the data book highlights the ongoing trend of growing renewable energy capacity and generation in the United States and globally."
The 2015 Renewable Energy Data Book compiles recently available statistics for the 2015 calendar year. Key insights include:
•    Renewable electricity accounted for 64 percent of U.S. electricity capacity additions in 2015, compared to 52 percent in 2014. 
•    Renewable electricity generation increased 2.4 percent in 2015. Solar electricity generation increased by 35.8 percent (11.7 terawatt-hours), and wind electricity generation increased by 5.1 percent (9.3 terawatt-hours), while generation from hydropower dropped by 3.2 percent (-8.2 terawatt-hours). 
•    The combined share of wind and solar as a percentage of renewable generation continued to grow in the U.S. in 2015. Hydropower produced more than 44 percent of total renewable electricity generation, wind produced 34 percent, biomass produced 11 percent, solar (photovoltaic and concentrating solar power) produced 8 percent, and geothermal produced 3 percent. 
•    Wind electricity installed capacity increased by more than 12 percent (8.1 gigawatts) in a year, accounting for more than 56 percent of U.S. renewable electricity capacity installed in 2015. 
•    U.S. solar electricity installed capacity increased by 36 percent (5.6 gigawatts), accounting for nearly 40 percent of newly installed U.S. renewable electricity capacity in 2015.
•    In 2015, California continued to have the most installed renewable electricity capacity of any U.S. state (nearly 31 gigawatts), followed by Washington (nearly 25 gigawatts) and Texas (more than 19 gigawatts).California has a diverse mix of renewables led by solar PV, hydropower, and wind. In Washington, the main contributor to renewable capacity is hydropower, while wind is the largest contributor in Texas.   
•    Oklahoma had the highest growth rate (30 percent) in installed renewable electricity capacity additions in 2015, followed by North Carolina (27 percent), Utah (27 percent), and Kansas (27 percent). Additions in wind capacity were the main contributor to growth in Oklahoma and Kansas, whereas additions in solar PV capacity accounted for most of the growth in North Carolina and Utah. 
•    Installed renewable electricity capacity increased to more than 29 percent of total electricity capacity worldwide in 2015. Renewables accounted for more than 24 percent of all electricity generation worldwide.

View 2015 Renewable Energy Data Book PDF


NREL 2016 Standard Scenarios Outlook Shows Continued Growth in Renewables and Gas in the U.S. Power Sector


The Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has released the 2016 Standard Scenarios: A U.S. Electricity Sector Outlook. The outlook shows significant projected growth in natural gas and renewables through 2050 driven by abundant, low-cost natural gas and renewable energy cost declines and performance improvements. The Standard Scenarios are designed to capture a range of possible futures across a variety of factors that could impact power sector evolution. 
The report discusses four areas of recent and projected future change in the U.S. electricity sector: renewable energy cost declines and associated growth, abundance of low-cost natural gas and associated generation, rapid growth in distributed rooftop photovoltaics (PV), and power sector decarbonization. New to this year's report is the Standard Scenarios Scenario Viewer, which provides downloadable state-level capacity, generation, and other results for the scenarios included in the report.
 "We are excited to share not just an outlook that explores power sector evolution--but also the underlying scenario data we used to create that outlook," said NREL Analyst and Project Lead Wesley Cole. "The scenario data can be used by others to inform their own independent analysis while still drawing on the modeling and expertise used to create the scenarios."
Now in its second year, the Standard Scenarios consist of 18 power sector scenarios, which have been projected using NREL's Regional Energy Deployment System (ReEDS) long-term capacity expansion model and the dGen rooftop PV diffusion model. The purpose of the Standard Scenarios output data and the associated report is to provide data, context, and discussion to inform stakeholder analysis and decisions that can impact the future direction of the U.S. power sector. The work is supported by the Energy Department's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

Standard Scenarios results and report products

Texas Renewable Industry Unfazed by Trump Environmental Policies


By Tom Kleckner

GEORGETOWN, Texas — Preston Schultz, director of development for Chicago-based Hecate Energy, says his firm is named after the three-faced Greek goddess of the crossroads. “She’s also the goddess of black magic,” he said, “but we don’t talk about that so much.”

It’s an apt enough description for where the renewables industry finds itself following last week’s election of climate skeptic Donald Trump as president of the United States: at the crossroads, and possibly needing a little magic to build upon its recent progress.

Trump, who has promised to scrap the Clean Power Plan and withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement, has shown little affection for renewables but promised to “save” the coal industry and reduce restrictions on natural gas production.

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Sharyland Utilities Proposes Panhandle Transmission Expansion: the South Plains Transmission Project


Sharyland has actively monitored the development and financial commitment of generation resources in the Panhandle region over the past year and, given the significant increase in wind generation resources since the last ERCOT independent assessment in the region, has prepared a comprehensive Panhandle region transmission assessment. 

Based on that assessment, on September 20, 2016, Sharyland presented nine transmission expansion options with the objective of increasing the Panhandle export limit. A report summarizing those options was provided, and Sharyland recommends Option #3 (South Plains Transmission Project or “Project”) as the preferred option to address the future needs of the Panhandle region. 

The Project builds on other recent decisions concerning Panhandle transmission capacity. Based on the 2015 recommendation of the ERCOT independent assessment of the Panhandle region, at its September 24, 2015 Open Meeting the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUCT) recommended the construction of the second 345 kV circuit on the Alibates – AJ Swope – Windmill – Ogallala – Tule Canyon (AAWOT) line under the CREZ Order (PURA §39.904(g)) and in the summer of 2016 approved a Certificate of Convenience and Necessity (CCN) for that project. Additionally, on December 8, 2015, the ERCOT Board of Directors approved the addition of two synchronous condensers, one each at Sharyland’s 345 kV Alibates and Tule Canyon stations. The tender for the synchronous condenser has been awarded and the condensers, along with the construction of the AAWOT line, are on schedule to be completed by June of 2018. The estimated Panhandle export transfer capability with these project additions is 4,013 MW.

ERCOT’s recommendations for the addition of the second circuit and the synchronous condensers were economically justified per the ERCOT economic planning criteria. These recommendations were based on ERCOT’s independent assessment of the Panhandle region needs performed in September 2015, when the Panhandle Wind Generation Resources (WGR) capacity meeting Section 6.9 requirements of the ERCOT Planning Guide was approximately 4,305 MW. During the course of the last year, there has been a significant increase in the Panhandle capacity meeting Section 6.9 requirements, with a new total of WGR capacity of approximately 5,269 MW. 

This Sharyland assessment of the Panhandle region spans system strength, power flow, dynamic stability, and production cost based economic assessments. Numerous transmission expansion options were investigated in the Sharyland studies with the objective of expanding the Panhandle export limit to accommodate the increases in generation capacity. At the August and September, 2016 ERCOT RPG meetings, Sharyland presented updates of the wind generation interconnection activity in the region, along with a study scope to review the addition of additional shunt reactive devices and new transmission paths to increase the Panhandle export transfer capability. Comments on the scope of work and transmission options were incorporated in the study plan.

Sharyland recommends the South Plains Transmission Project as the preferred option to address the future needs of the Panhandle region. The Project includes the following three transmission additions: 

· New 67.5 mile 345 kV (double circuit capable) Abernathy – Grassland single circuit line 

· New 53.2 mile 345 kV (double circuit capable) Ogallala – Abernathy single circuit line 

· One (1) 175 MVA synchronous condenser at Windmill (minimum short circuit contribution of 1606 A at the condenser terminals) 

The South Plains Transmission Project provides the highest Panhandle export capability amongst all the options evaluated by Sharyland when taking both system strength and dynamic performance into account. 

 The capital cost estimate for the South Plains Transmission Project is estimated to be $251 Million. Assuming ERCOT endorsement by Q2, 2017, Sharyland estimates the project to be in service by the end of 2020. With the addition of the Project, the estimated Panhandle export transfer capability increases from 4,013 MW to 4,833 MW.

Comments of support are due by Monday, November 7 to ERCOT

South Plains Transmission Project Comment Form .DOC

South Plains Transmission Report PDF

ERCOT Summer Wind PDF 

Texas Lawyer Names Jewart to 2016 Women in Energy List


Husch Blackwell partner Eleanor “Cacki” Chote Jewart is one of 29 attorneys honored as a recipient of Texas Lawyer’s 2016 Women in Energy awards.

Based in the firm’s Austin office, Jewart is a partner in the firm’s Energy & Natural Resources and Real Estate, Development & Construction groups.  She represents renewable energy companies in solar and wind projects, including lease and easement negotiation, real estate due diligence, project development and construction issues.

Jewart and the other 2016 Women in Energy recipients will be honored at a December 5 event in Houston.

NREL: International Colleagues Propose Strategy for Stable, Commercial Perovskite Solar Cells


A strategy for producing stable and commercially available perovskite solar cells (PSCs) has been proposed by Kai Zhu and Keith Emery at the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), in collaboration with Nam-Gyu Park (Korea), Michael Grätzel (Switzerland), and Tsutomu Miyasaka (Japan). 

Solar cells using a halide perovskite with an organic cation such as methylammonium and/or formamidinium have attracted considerable attention because of their excellent photovoltaic performance. Over a period of just a few years, their power conversion efficiency has rocketed to greater than 22 percent.

However, PSCs face challenges to commercialization. Specifically, they have the following needs that must be addressed for the eventual success of this promising technology: 1) long-term stability, 2) a manufacturing method that can produce reproducible, hysteresis-free, high-performance devices, and 3) reliable device characterization.

Nam-Gyu Park of Sungkyunkwan University initiated this joint effort to provide solutions to these needs, and the authors proposed a strategy-to move toward stable commercial PSCs-that includes the following: 
•    Developing a reproducible manufacturing method that takes into account managing grain boundaries and interfacial charge transport
•    Using electroluminescence as an effective metric or tool for evaluating PSC quality
•    Realizing the importance of the design of device structures with interface engineering to yield performance that is stable and hysteresis-free
•    Recovering and utilizing the lead in PSCs to address environmental concerns
•    Ensuring the advance of practical applications through reliable device characterization.

Details of the strategy are found in the paper, "Towards Stable and Commercially Available Perovskite Solar Cells," published in Nature Energy. The authors are Nam-Gyu Park (Sungkyunkwan University, Korea), Michael Grätzel (Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, Switzerland), Tsutomu Miyasaka (Toin University of Yokohama, Japan), and Kai Zhu and Keith Emery from NREL.

NREL Report Shows U.S. Solar Photovoltaic Costs Continuing to Fall in 2016


NREL U.S. PV system cost benchmarks, from the fourth quarter of 2009 to the first quarter of 2016
The modeled costs to install solar photovoltaic (PV) systems continued to decline in the first quarter of 2016 in the U.S. residential, commercial, and utility-scale sectors, according to updated benchmarks from the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Driving the cost reductions were lower module and inverter prices, increased competition, lower installer and developer overheads, improved labor productivity, and optimized system configurations. 
"The continuing total cost decline of solar PV systems demonstrates the sustained economic competitiveness of solar PV for the industry across all three sectors," said NREL Senior Analyst and Project Lead Ran Fu.
The modeled costs for the first quarter of 2016 were down from the fourth quarter of 2015 by 6 percent, 4 percent, and 20 percent in the residential, commercial, and utility-scale sectors, respectively. The costs fell to $2.93 per watt of direct current for residential systems, $2.13 per watt of direct current for residential systems, and $1.42 per watt of direct current (Wdc) for residential systems for fixed-tilt utility-scale systems, and $1.49 Wdc for one-axis-tracking utility-scale systems. 
"Such accurate cost benchmarks are critical for tracking the progress of PV systems toward cost-reduction goals. Because our cost model categorizes hardware and non-hardware costs with a high degree of resolution, the results can also be used to identify specific cost-reduction investment opportunities and assess regional levelized costs of energy," Fu said.
The new results also highlight the importance of non-hardware, or "soft," costs. As the pace of cost reductions for modules and inverters has slowed in recent years, the proportion from soft costs-such as labor, overhead, and permitting costs-has grown. In the first quarter of 2016, soft costs accounted for 58 percent of residential system costs, 49 percent of commercial system costs, and 34 percent of utility-scale system costs.
NREL uses a "bottom-up" modeling method to construct total capital costs by quantifying the typical cost of each individual system and project-development component, largely through dialogues and interviews with solar industry collaborators. The results represent total installed system costs from the perspective of the PV project developer or installer, including net profit in the cost of the hardware. The benchmarks are national averages weighted by state installed PV capacities.

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