Tag Archives: renewable energy

Vanishing Demand,
 Not Trump Coal Crusade
 Is Real Issue For Utilities

It’s planning time in the electric utility industry, and a raft of new reports make two points abundantly clear:

  • Efforts to “save” the coal industry are bound to founder since utilities, as a group coal’s largest customer by far, have moved on and are planning a cleaner future in which the black rock’s current share of the electricity market, in the low 30 percent range, is as high as it’s ever going to get.
  • Vanishingly small increases in demand (and the occasional outlook for declines) will be a major issue for the industry in the next 10 years.

In its latest 10-year power plant siting plan, for example, Florida Power & Light pointed out that it was continuing its efforts “to move away from coal-fired generation.” In total, the utility said it planned to take 1,216 MW of coal-fired generation off its system by the first quarter of 2019. (FPL’s site plan can be found here.)

Similarly, in its recently filed 2017 integrated resource plan (IRP), PacifiCorp, the sprawling utility holding company that serves 1.8 million customers in six western states, said its preferred generation portfolio going forward “reflects a cost-conscious transition to a cleaner energy future.” Through 2028, PacifiCorp said it would be able to meet its system-wide power needs through demand side management (DSM), new renewable (primarily wind) generation and short-term purchases on the wholesale market. Looking longer-term, the company said it planned to shutter 3,650 MW of coal-fired capacity by 2036. (PacfiCorp’s IRP and other backup information can be found here.)

Continue reading Vanishing Demand,
 Not Trump Coal Crusade
 Is Real Issue For Utilities

 Green Power Revolution
 Grinds Forward,
 An Unstoppable Glacier

Webster’s defines revolution as “a sudden, radical or complete change.”  The ongoing revolution in the United States electric utility industry fits that definition to a T. The changes have been unbelievably quick (at least by company standards, if not by activists’ desires), and the long-term impacts are going to be both radical and complete. Importantly, particularly in today’s political climate, I would add that the transition is unstoppable—like the inexorable forward advance of a glacier.

What got me thinking about this were two short news releases from the National Electrical Manufacturers Association earlier this week regarding shipments of LEDs during the third quarter of 2016 (the latest data it has available). In one, NEMA said that shipments of A-type LEDs (the most commonly used bulb for residential applications) topped 30 percent of the total for the first time, continuing a surge that has seen its market share climb from essentially zero just two years ago.

In the second, NEMA pointed out that it had added so-called T-LEDs to its statistics tracking shipments of the linear fluorescent tubes (marketed largely as T5, T8 and T12, which denote their diameter in eighths of an inch) that dominate the commercial and big box retail markets.  In the third quarter, NEMA said, T-LEDs accounted from 12.8 percent of all shipments in this category—almost double the 1st quarter results, the first time NEMA even included the segment in its quarterly report. As with the A-line LEDs, sales of T-LEDs were essentially nonexistent in 2014.

Continue reading
 Green Power Revolution
 Grinds Forward,
 An Unstoppable Glacier

Green Power Is The Key
 For Utilities To Keep
 Their Commercial Clients

For utility executives used to 40-year planning horizons, the past 10 years have been, shall we say, a difficult learning experience.

Ten years ago shale gas production was still at miniscule levels and natural gas prices were well above $6 per million British thermal units (mmBtu) and showing no signs of decline; today gas is the go-to fuel and price projections have essentially flat-lined well under $5 per mmBtu. Ten years ago nuclear was in the midst of a renaissance, with utilities considering plans to build upward of 28 new reactors; today just four new reactors are being built (by two utilities) and they are way over budget and long-delayed. Ten years ago renewables were a far-off hope, with EIA’s 2005 energy outlook pegging solar PV at 0.00 quads through the 2025 forecast horizon; today solar is shining, with 20 gigawatts of installed capacity to date and much more on the way, while wind accounts for more than 4 percent of the nation’s electric generation.

Another change in the past 10 years, harder to quantify but just as real, has been the complete shift in customer expectations. Previously, customers simply bought what their utilities offered—“We don’t have any of that clean power today, you’ll have to buy this brown stuff.” Today, customers are going out and finding the cleaner, greener power they want—a fact I see regularly in press release after press release touting company X’s decision to buy the output from a new solar or wind project or, even more telling, to develop the project themselves.

It has been hard to put numbers on this change, but a new report from DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (Renewable Electricity Use by the U.S. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Industry, which can be found here) provides clear evidence of the shift within the information/telecommunications sector. Ten years ago, the companies in an EPA initiative called the Greenhouse Power Partnership purchased essentially zero renewable energy; today, those companies (the number participating has now climbed to 68) purchase 7.8 million megawatt-hours (mwh) of green power—amounting to almost 44 percent of their total electricity consumption in 2014.


Taking a broader slice of the ICT market, NREL tracked 113 companies that reported information either through EPA’s GPP or another program called the Carbon Disclosure Project Worldwide and estimated overall electricity use in the sector at more than 59 million mwh in 2014. Of this total, which is well over 1 percent of annual U.S. electric consumption, 8.3 million mwh—or about 14 percent—was renewable. According to NREL, the green electricity is sourced from a mix of power purchase agreements (PPAs), on-site generation, utility green power products and renewable energy certificates (RECs). In other words, in large part, the companies are going out and getting what they want, not waiting for their supplier to bring it to them.

This growth is almost certain to continue in the years ahead, NREL said, projecting that by 2020 the amount of renewable energy used by the 113 will more than double, climbing to at least 18.5 million mwh even under a low growth scenario. In a more aggressive estimate, NREL said renewable consumption by the 113 could shoot up to more than 37 million mwh.

And some of the firms have even grander plans. Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google, for example, all have publicly announced corporate plans to purchase 100 percent of their electricity from green sources. That won’t happen overnight, but don’t be surprised if 10 years from now they have met that goal.

These commercial customers clearly are driving huge changes in the utility industry—it’s time, past time in fact, for the industry to respond and give them what they want or risk losing them as customers entirely.

–Dennis Wamsted