air pollution

Air Pollution Reduces Solar Energy Efficiency. COVID-19 Gives Us A Chance To Find Out How Much.

While they’d never have wished for it, the pandemic and subsequent shutdowns have given climate scientists an opportunity to study pollution like never before. When it comes to solar energy, the findings could be critical. 

Around the world, countries responded to the rising threat of the coronavirus with economic and social shutdowns like never before. Entire economies didn’t just wind down, they slammed into a wall. That economic stop has left tens of millions of Americans out of work and drastic stimulus plans rushing through governments in every corner of the globe. Almost no business is unaffected, and industries like manufacturing, transportation, and others have been some of the worst hit. 

There is a silver lining, at least. The stoppage has allowed for an unprecedented drop in air pollution. In urban centers, the lack of traffic and other causes of smog have all but stopped, and the result has been staggering. Even in some of the most polluted cities on earth, locals have noticed better breathing quality and better visibility. For researchers, however, it’s offered the chance to do a lot more than just take a deep breath. 

For example, solar energy scientists jumped at the chance to study just how much solar panels are impacted by air pollution. One study focused on the air quality of Delhi, India, one of the most polluted cities in one of the most polluted industrial countries. The drastic lockdown measures taken by the Indian government offered a clean, easy-to-identify timeline for air pollution levels, giving scientists a way to get a closer look at how they affect efficiency. 

The study found that 950 Watts/square meter of sunlight reached panels in late March, up from an average of 880 W/sm over that same time period in 2017, 2018, and 2019. That’s an 8% increase, which is nothing if not substantial. In fact, an 8% increase is comparable to the difference in sunlight, on average, between Houston, Texas, and Toronto in Canada. 

It highlights how much impact pollution plays in the future of solar energy. By reducing the energy production of solar panels, that power needs to be produced by other means. Often, that means relying on fossil fuels that contribute even more pollution to the air, reducing solar production even more. It’s a vicious cycle, but there’s hope in the recent findings that air pollution can clear quickly, but only if producers stop creating such incredible amounts of smog. 

Of course, there’s more good to be gained from reducing air pollution beyond better solar power. Air pollution affects the health of tens of millions of people around the world, even contributing to less successful outcomes for coronavirus patients. The world spends billions of dollars a year treating people with respiratory illnesses and cancers connected to air pollution. 

The lesson is clear. All it will take to improve many of our environmental challenges is commitment. We simply can’t wait for a health emergency and a stunted economy to drive the change. Learn more about how Keen Technical Solutions can help your company be a part of that change, from solar energy to energy storage and beyond.

Spain

Renewable Energy Growing In Heart Of Oil Country

There is a lot of uncertainty on when and how the United States will get back to its feet. With record unemployment, a huge dent in consumer confidence, and the on-going threat of a pandemic that shows few signs of being under control, it’s important to look ahead. 

For businesses and communities asking questions about what comes next in the world of energy, it’s hard to look past the future of oil. Fossil fuels, in general, saw a reprise of sorts over the past decade thanks to new but inefficient fracking methods in the US. Not only did the practice contaminate the groundwater of millions of Americans, it wasn’t cost-effective. As the OPEC+ in-fighting demonstrated, few of these domestic producers offered a long-term solution to our energy needs. Hundreds have gone out of business in the past three months, and many more are not expected to survive the recession. 

The bright spot, then, is solar. And not just solar, either. As we’ve said many times, at residential, commercial, and even grid-scale, it will take a number of renewable energy sources and an efficient energy storage system to keep America running through the transition away from fossil fuels. If anyone still needs proof that this move is inevitable, look for further than Egypt. 

While not as productive or reliant on oil as other North African or the Middle East, oil does have a strong presence in the Egyptian economy. Rather than rely on domestic supply supported by foreign imports, Egypt is turning its eye to the sky and investing heavily in solar power. The solar field of Aswan, for instance, is the nation’s largest solar array and produces 1.5 GW of power per year, enough juice to power 1.5 million homes in the region. 

All of the Middle East has been built on oil, with just 3% of its current energy needs met by sustainable needs. But that’s changing, and fast. Over the past ten years, its renewable capacity has doubled, and it’s expected to double yet again in just the next four years. Originally, it was non-oil producing countries like Morocco that made the move, but now even OPEC titans like are getting in the game, including offering one of the lowest tariff bids just last year.

While the scale of production is growing quickly, it’s dwarfed by another important factor in the move to renewable energy, and that’s investment. Production is actually behind the cash influx; in the past ten years, the Middle East has grown from just 91 megawatts of renewable energy production to 9 GW; in that same time, investment in green energy has increased by more than twelve times the 2008 level. 

For US businesses, it’s a sign that the move to efficiency, sustainability, and responsible energy production reflects a growing demand in the public and in the energy sector itself. On a firm-level scale, it’s a time to invest in the energy efficiency measures that will allow a business to make the most of low oil prices now and be ready to make the transition to renewables before it’s an arms race. Take ownership of your energy environment for a brighter future.

Spain’s Bright Spot During Pandemic…

Spain

And now, some good news. 

After months of coronavirus stories out of Europe, one of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic has some shining bright news to share. Indeed, many in the renewable energy sector are taking a bit of pride in seeing a success story just as the world, as Europe, as Spain, and as all of us need something to get excited about. 

Spain has trailed behind only Italy and the United States in the COVID-19 pandemic, losing tens of thousands of lives as it battled to stem the spread of the virus. Just as some non-essential businesses began to reopen their doors and life got back to normal for just a sliver of the population, a crowning achievement in sustainability went online. Spanish utility company Iberdrola announced that the first kilowatt-hour is through the line of the 500-megawatt facility in Extremadura. 

The Nunez de Balboa facility lays claim as Europe’s largest operating solar plant. The station comprises over 1.4 million solar panels and can provide power to over a quarter of a million people in the region per year. That’s especially good news in an industry that has seen its growth scaled back due to the pandemic. Estimates of nearly 130 gigawatts in 2020 are now expected to fall roughly around 106 GW, a drop just shy of 20% to pre-pandemic totals. 

It’s not just solar. Supply chain and manufacturing disruptions have already had an impact on wind turbine construction in Europe, with the Netherlands most affected. There has been little incentive for firms and utilities to switch, with record-breaking low oil prices hitting a floor in mid-April, only with a deal to cut production by OPEC, Russia, and the United States able to keep prices per barrel above prices not seen in nearly three decades. 

Solar in Spain might be one of the bright spots of a season that’s been incredibly challenging in not just Spain, but around the globe. Right now, renewables need to stay on the mind to help countries emerge from the pandemic with as healthy and bright a future as we deserve. 

solar

Solar Project Scale: The (New) Biggest Solar Installation in the US?

We like to aim high and go big. So how big is the largest solar project in the United States? Find out how much power one plant in California creates! 

Late in 2019, the federal government gave its stamp of approval to the Gemini solar project. Located in Las Vegas, Nevada, the proposed site would span over 7,000 acres and generate nearly 700 mW. It would also tap into the emerging efficiency of energy storage capacity by holding onto a minimum of 380 mW on-site. At $1 billion, Gemini would become the biggest solar facility in the United States. 

In the competitive world of energy, the current record holder for power generation would almost certainly like to add an asterisk. The storage capacity of Gemini would push it into the lead. At the Solar Star solar project in California, its 579 mW of generation does not include storage capacity. When Solar Star came online in 2015, it was the world’s largest solar energy generation site. It was surpassed four years later by a plant in India, which uses 13,000 acres to produce over 2,000 mW. 

Current plans for Gemini would have it operational by 2023 and work with two other solar power facilities that are already in service. The project is a vital part of Nevada’s commitment to zero carbon emissions by 2050. Along the way, the state has committed to getting at least 50% of its electricity by renewable sources by 2030. 

It’s going to take big ideas, big investments, and a lot of hard work to successfully tackle the immense challenges in climate change and energy consumption. But not every project needs to set a record in order to contribute; from a more efficient light bulb to the biggest solar project in the United States, every step forward gets us closer to sustainability.

solar power

An Opportunity To Invest In A Brighter Future

solar power

The government is talking about an unprecedented stimulus package. It’s fitting; we live in unprecedented times. The impact of coronavirus over the past three months has been startling; the effects of three months could be exponentially more challenging. Out of this situation, we have to seize every opportunity possible. 

Out of the wreckage of our economy, the proposed stimulus packages that have been floated from both the House of Representatives and Senate are more than just a lifeline for those affected by closures and shutdowns across the country. They’re a chance to redirect the entire economy and specific industries. Among those priorities should certainly be a commitment to alternative energy and an investment in rewarding those who pivot to cleaner, more sustainable energy options. 

On Capitol Hill, there is a predictable split between parties between those who advocate for the inclusion and even the requirement that some of the $1 trillion or more earmarked for the stimulus plan be invested specifically in green technologies. Two giants of the alternative energy industries, Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), have both been vocal in emphasizing the immense opportunity the nation has to make the most to a brighter, cleaner energy future. 

Without that support, the growth of the past decade could be at risk. A recent study forecasted that as much as 50% of residential solar jobs could be lost, while as much as $43 billion in investment in the field could also be on the line. That money could be diverted or held back, stopping work on solar project fields across the country. 

Additionally, as many as 35,000 jobs in wind could be at risk, according to the AWEA. Industry advocates argue that a number of options to support alternative energy exists, including creating new tax credits or extending current tax credits that are beginning to phase out over the next five years. 

Instead, the Trump administration has asked Congress to approve as much as $3 billion to fill the national oil reserves and prop up US producers who have been steamrolled by the price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia. Of course, the obvious argument here is that it’s a short term fix; it’s a solution only until those reserves are met, or until the next time foreign countries decide to lower prices. 

By refusing to invest in alternative energy sources, our country faces the prospect of spending billions to get out of one global health crisis only to face the realities of the climate crisis even further behind the eight ball.

Learn more; contact us today to see how these investments could affect your business.

Renewable Energy in 2020

 

As we hit 2020, we’re taking a look at some of the things we’re most excited to see. Renewable, sustainable energy is the future, and that’s a future that makes a difference every single day; every hour brings us closer to more efficiency, better technology, and the next big breakthrough. 

Innovation is coming from both private and public sectors, driven by forward-thinking people and organizations. Every interested party looks to what’s next, what matters in their industry, and how to maximize investment to get the world committed to smart, sustainable energy production. 

In some areas, we did take a step back. The most recent federal spending budget slashed a number of tax credits designed to support electric vehicles. The $7,500 EV credit for Tesla owners will expire, a credit that was halved twice in 2019. The credit survives only as a $3,500 bonus for those who purchase a car from EV brands that have sold less than 200,000 in the calendar year. 

Still, that big budget has some bright spots in the form of extended credits addressed towards biodiesels, wind, and solar. Those credits are designed to slowly reduce through the end of 2020, where they’ll have to be re-upped before the bill expires. Some of the coal credits included in the bill include mining on Native lands, and they’re substantial. Experts say that the coal credits more than erase the potential carbon emissions cuts supported by the aforementioned credits in green energy. 

While that might all sound bleak, there’s good news. Solar is looking especially bright, no pun intended. At the end of 2019, the United States has enough solar energy production to support 13.5 million homes, and even with minimal support from the federal government, that number is expected to double by 2025. 

A big part of that success comes from the huge improvements in energy storage. The cost of lithium-ion batteries fell by 35% since 2018, and by over 70% since 2012. These batteries are crucial in facilities that battle the costs of sizeable energy peaks. As load capacity increases, the more cost-effective these energy storage systems become, and the less businesses rely on their local energy grid rates, coal, or natural gas costs. 

Additionally, those reducing tax credits might actual cause a surge in investment. With tax credits, currently set at approximately 30%, starting to decrease before their expiration, any businesses or investors will move now to make the most of that rebate. That means we’re going to be working to lock-in these credits and get projects booked early in 2020 to make the most of the credits right now. A $10,000 investment today sees a credit of roughly $2,600 in 2020; now is the time to make the move. 

Finally, energy demand is expected to increase. Across industries, energy needs will continue to rise, and renewables are now efficient and affordable enough to plug the gap. As these technologies become more pervasive, they’ll move from being a niche or pet projects to the default mode of energy production. Investment in wind, solar, geothermal, and other renewables will become more lucrative, drawing even more backing and implementation. 

There is a lot to be excited about as we head into 2020, and we’re excited to be a part of the sweeping change in the energy sector. What can renewables do for you? Call Keen and let us show you!

East Coast Serves As Energy Storage Example

The East Coast has led the way in energy storage in the past few years and even a sky-high overview of some of its 2019 projects offer a way forward for other regions to follow suit. 

It’s no surprise that states like New York and Massachusetts, home to massive populations and energy usage, have been pioneering the way forward in adding energy storage to its toolbox of answers for the future. One company, Nexamp, now holds the reins to 40% of the New York SUN project, a full 51MWh. 

New York has committed to nearly $290 million in energy storage, with a goal of boasting a full 3 GWh by 2030. It’s an ambitious timeline, but with the right investment and technology, experts are confident that New York can get there on schedule. 

The New York project is one of a half-dozen sites on the east coast that are pursuing energy storage applications on a grid scale. Massachusetts’ MA Smart is a similar project that is built around declining credits as energy needs are met and sustained. That effort will see the end of its first full year of operations on November 26 and will offer a glimpse of how such a scheme has impacted the energy needs of its users. 

Energy storage is the ideal platform to add on renewable energy sources like solar and wind because it allows you to store excess production on your own terms, lowering your KWh rate on the grid and giving business more control with load shedding and dealing with peak demand. It’s one tool we’re excited to bring to companies looking to invest in themselves and in the future!

There are a lot of amazing things happening in the world of energy storage. Want to learn more about how Keen Technical Solutions can find the first answers to your energy environment? Give us a call and let’s get started. 

The Road To Zero: Neutral Carbon And The Magic Number For Renewables and Energy Storage

It’s a massive challenge, but a crucial one. Across the country and around the world, companies, cities, even entire countries are committing to getting to zero carbon emissions. Ranging from the ambitious to the outrageous, the timeline for those goals varies by decades, but the real question is how we plan to get there. It’s a race against time, against pollution, against resistance, and against significant technological barriers. It’s a race to zero. But how do we get there?

It appears there are two avenues, though both of them rely heavily on renewable energy as a crucial piece of their infrastructure. Some of those goals are specific in achieving carbon neutrality with renewables and energy storage alone, which would eliminate nuclear or biomass sources of electricity. That’s a key distinction, with various risks and inefficiencies of those types of energy production already controversial. This avenue puts tremendous pressure on renewable technologies not just to adapt and improve quickly, but to do so cheaply. While solar, wind, and other renewables have improved in leaps and bounds, they’re only now becoming reasonable options for consumers, especially at grid-level. 

The other option is to include renewable options like biomass and nuclear energy as pieces to the energy puzzle, not only to meet specific timelines but as integral parts of the energy picture for decades to come. This relieves some pressure on renewables, allowing certain parts of the grid in place; think of it as starting a game of connect-the-dots with one corner already finished. However, support of nuclear power, in particular, is waning, and with geopolitical instabilities around all things nuclear more fragile than ever, it’s not a technology that can be fairly, safely, or equitably implemented around the globe. 

So how do we get to grid-level renewable energy, which has a near-constant demand, with power generation that is variable at best? Both wind and solar electrical production peaks and dips according to the season, the time of day, even minute to minute; a passing cloud could affect solar, while gusting and becalmed times can have a huge impact on wind. The key, then, is storage, and storage that’s inexpensive enough to implement now. 

That number isn’t exactly a mystery. MIT ran a study that put the figure at $20 per kilowatt-hour to make renewable energy and energy storage viable. The downside? That’s nearly half the rate these technologies can offer right now. Experts say that this figure may not even be possible by 2030, a full decade away. A big part of that forecast is that the study accounted for not just daily, weekly, or monthly fluctuations in wind and solar energy, but entire years and even decades; they aren’t building this model based on short-term changes, but for long-term peaks and valleys in energy consumption. In effect, they’re preparing for the worst-case scenarios, which would be extremely high demands (think six years of very cold winters and very hot summers, for example) with extremely low output from wind and solar. 

It’s those ‘worst-case’ scenarios that skew the target kilowatt costs. The study pointed out that if we account for 95% of energy needs, opposed to 100%, then the target kilowatt-hour jumps to $150. Why does such a small change have such a big impact? Because that 5% accounts for astronomically small and rate weather patterns; it’s like saying we’re having the worst weather possible not just for a year or two, but for decades. 

And that’s a big point to make; such gloomy weather forecasts are extremely unlikely. It’s also worth noting that these renewable energy sources are no different than fossil fuels and natural gas in one way; no source of fuel is perfectly reliable. Changes in access, production, and efficiency in oil refinement, for example, is why the cost of a barrel of oil can change drastically in a single day, and even more do over long periods of time. Historically, oil production has gone up, while the future only looks brighter for renewables. While scarcity and exhaustion mean oil will only ever costs more before it ultimately runs out, technology and efficiency improvements mean renewable energy can only get less expensive. 

That brings us to another point to be optimistic. If you were to invest in the infrastructure of your business, your city, or your country, which would you back financially. Option one will only cost you more money over time and eventually run out, but it is cheaper now. Option two will only cost you less money over time and never run out, but costs more today. Anyone planning for the next decade and beyond will go for the second option, and that’s why the 2030 forecast for viable energy storage and renewable energy might not be as optimistic as it should be. Soon, the industry will have the type of investment and financial backing to make the types of strides we need to see to make it viable sooner, and that’s because it’s not just society that needs these changes, but the influential businesses themselves. 

Will it take another decade to see renewable energy and energy storage take over? We don’t think so. Want to learn more? Give us a call and let’s talk about how you can create your own grid now and insulate your business from changing energy costs for years to come.