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DOE: U.S. onshore wind projects achieving record capacity, employment

Record low costs helped drive U.S. utility-scale onshore wind development to all-time highs in employment and capacity, according to a new federal Department of Energy report.

The U.S. land-based wind industry installed 7,588 MW of capacity last year, bringing the overall utility-scale total to more than 96 GW. Employment in the sector is also at an historic support of 114,000 jobs.

 “Onshore wind energy installation continues to grow across the country, and this Administration has proven that we can pursue renewable energy advancements and deployment, particularly wind energy resources, which are predicted to surpass other sources of renewable power generation this year,” said Under Secretary of Energy Mark W. Menezes. “And with over 25 GW in the development pipeline, U.S. offshore wind is poised to be a significant part of our comprehensive energy portfolio in the coming years.”

The 2018 Wind Technologies Market Report, prepared by DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, also found the following:

  • In total, 41 states operated utility-scale wind projects. Texas leads the nation with nearly 25 GW of wind capacity, while California, Iowa, Kansas, and Oklahoma have more than 5 GW.
  • Wind energy provides 6.5 percent of the nation’s electricity, more than 10 percent of total generation in 14 states, and more than 30 percent in Iowa, Kansas, and Oklahoma.
  • The price of wind energy being sold in long-term contracts is at an all-time low. Wind power purchase agreement (PPA) prices are below 2 cents per kWh, driven by a combination of higher capacity factors, declining turbine prices and operating costs, low interest rates, and the production tax credit.

The nationwide query also found that the trend of using larger wind turbines was sustained last year. The average capacity of large-scale turbines installed in distributed applications in 2018 was 2.1 MW—almost double the capacity of turbines used in 2003.

Commercial and industrial distributed wind projects increased in 2018, representing 29 percent of total project capacity. Distributed wind for utility customers remained the most prevalent use, representing 47 percent of capacity in 2018.

Of small wind turbines (nameplate capacity up to 100 kilowatts) deployed in the United States, very small turbines—less than 1 kW— are contributing an increasingly larger percentage of both the total number of turbines (99 percent) and capacity (47 percent) of small wind projects. These systems are often used for battery charging and are sometimes integrated with solar PV panels to power remote infrastructure.

(Rod Walton is content director for Power Engineering and POWERGEN International. He can be reached at 918-831-9177 and rod.walton@clarionevent.com).



Can Italy strike twice?

By Stefania Belisario and Massimo Schiavo, Contributors

Italy’s National Energy Strategy aims to increase wind and solar power’s share of gross final energy consumption by 2030. The country boasts a track record of meeting past renewables targets, but can it be successful once more? Stefania Belisario, associate director, Infrastructure, S&P Global Ratings, assesses the factors either driving or impeding progress

Italy’s power market is on the cusp of significant change. According to the National Energy and Climate Plan submitted to the European Commission earlier this year, by 2030, solar capacity is forecast to increase from 21 gigawatts (GW) at end-2018 to 50.9 GW. Wind capacity is set to undergo similar proliferation – from 11 GW to 18.4 GW.  

Unsurprisingly, the feasibility of meeting such ambitious targets has garnered significant interest. Italy’s historical success in surpassing renewable targets has set the bar high, but the generous government subsidies and resultant capital investment that boosted past levels are both lacking. In the absence of subsidies, projects are largely exposed to volatile merchant prices – a key credit risk when financing new projects. 

As such, meeting these targets, though possible, comes with considerable hurdles. With the size of auctions through to 2021 estimated at 7GW, Italy will require levers beyond the upcoming auctions to meet its lofty 2030 targets. 

Can Italy repeat past success?

Nonetheless, the country is taking steps to promote its new energy targets: seven auctions are to be held from 2019 to 2021, with a contract for difference mechanism that will remove all exposure to market risk by ensuring a unitary tariff; a reference price for larger plants that is closer to market price than under previous incentive plans, reducing the risk of retroactive changes in the regulatory framework; and incentives that assist smaller plants. 

One mustn’t forget that Italy has a successful track record in meeting renewable targets. The country reached its 2020 energy strategy target of 17% of renewables in gross energy consumption in 2014 – not only six years ahead of the 2020 deadline, but also with stronger performance than other EU countries. This previous success came during a period of generous government subsidies, which spurred exceptional growth in renewable investment in the country, particularly in solar photovoltaics (PV) and onshore wind between 2010-2013. 

Times, however, have changed. While the cost of renewable investments and maintenance has fallen significantly over the last years, feed-in tariffs for PV ended in 2013 in Italy. In the absence of subsidies, projects are largely exposed to the volatility of merchant prices, which, in the long term, makes the predictability of cash flow relatively uncertain, representing a key credit risk for financing new projects. Hence, these latest targets must be met under different circumstances. 

Long-term purchase agreements (PPAs), which set fixed prices, reduce the uncertainty about market volatility. While Italy has announced its intention to create a platform to negotiate long-term energy contracts, the Renewables Decree for the upcoming auctions provides no immediate measures to facilitate this. 

Some authorization risk remains, too.  There have been a number of cases under previous feed-in tariffs where irregularities were found in plants’ authorizations after some years of operation. Assets, therefore, remain exposed to the risk of incentive revocation during their lifetime and also, potentially, to risk of clawback. 

This means the Gestore dei Servizi Energetici (GSE; the state-owned entity responsible for granting renewable incentives) may claim the reimbursement of all incentives already received by the project if authorization irregularities are found – at any time during the life of the project. While large portfolios can mitigate risk through geographical diversification, this exposes single assets to high-impact risk.

Some reasons for optimism

Likely to go some way to promoting renewable investment and helping Italy reach its 2030 targets are the seven competitive auctions to be held between 2019 and 2021, which include up to 4.8 GW in new PV and wind power plants, as well as 140 megawatts (MW) of hydro, biomass, and geothermal plants, and 490 MW repowering investments. What’s more, a further 1.49 GW will be auctioned for smaller plants. 

The proposed incentive of contracts for difference (CFD) – an established mechanism in other European countries, but a novelty for Italy – may make all the difference in insulating solar and wind plants from merchant risk. Stipulating that projects selected at auction will sell energy to the GSE at a “strike price,” fixed on a nominal basis for 20 years, and that the parties will exchange the difference between the strike price and market price at contract time, a CFD removes all project exposure to market risk. 

While this removes potential upside for sponsors, it also removes all project exposure to market risk, increasing the predictability of cash flow. The CFD mechanism also means that for the first time, auctions may generate revenue for the GSE – reducing the risk of retroactive changes in the regulatory framework, compared to the 8% cut in the feed-in tariff applied in 2014 to reduce the tax burden on final consumers. This is further supported by the fact that the reference price in the auctions for plants above 1MW is closer to the market price than under previous incentive plans, reducing the risk of the plan becoming unsustainable. 

Wind and PV projects will be competing for the same incentive, which is a novelty under the Italian framework, with project selection to be based on discount offered. We believe that the similar levelized cost of wind and solar in the country may ensure a fair competition between the two technologies. 

Of course, outside the opportunities offered by the auctions, all’s not lost. Renewable investments without any form of subsidies are not impossible: the U.S., for example, has developed a market for long-term PPA that reduces uncertainty about future market prices. Some transactions relying on PPA are starting to emerge in Europe as well and Italy is not an exception. Upcoming actions, therefore, are only the beginning of a longer path to reach the ambitious targets that Italy has set itself for 2030.

Stefania is an associate within the Infrastructure team at S&P Global Ratings where she is responsible for a portfolio of corporate and project finance credits. On the corporate side, she has experience in the rail, toll road and car park sectors across Europe, while her expertise in project finance covers student accommodation, hospitals and renewable projects. Prior to joining S&P in 2015, Stefania was an assistant manager in the project finance team at PwC in Rome. She has a Master’s degree in Economics and Management from Bocconi University, Milan, and speaks English, Italian and French.

Massimo is an Associate Director within the Infrastructure Ratings Group of S&P Global Ratings.

Lekela reaches financial close for its West Bakr Wind project

Lekela announced that it has reached financial close on its first wind project in Egypt, West Bakr Wind. Construction will begin shortly, delivering 250 MW of clean, reliable power at a highly competitive price.

Once the project is fully operational in 2021, it will produce over 1,000 GWh per year and power more than 350,000 homes, the company said in a statement.

Located 30 km northwest of Ras Ghareb, West Bakr Wind is part of the government’s Build, Own, Operate (BOO) scheme. It will increase Egypt’s wind energy capacity by 14%, as the country strives to meet its target of generating 20% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2022; which includes a 67% partnership with the private sector.

The project is also expected to reduce more than 550,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per year.

A portfolio of wind projects

West Bakr Wind joins Lekela’s portfolio of wind projects across Senegal, Ghana and South Africa. In total, over 1,000 MW is now in operation or construction.

“As our first project in Egypt, we have enjoyed working closely with partners and stakeholders, including the Egyptian Electricity Transmission Company and the New and Renewable Energy Authority, to get to this point,” said Chris Antonopoulos, chief executive officer at Lekela. “We see great opportunity to invest in wind energy in Egypt, and we look forward to working in the country for years to come.”

As part of the company’s strategy to create long-term value for the communities in which it operates, the project has developed a Community Investment Plan focusing on enterprise, education and environment initiatives. Local employment opportunities will be created alongside skills development and training to improve future employment prospects. During peak construction, the project will employ up to 550 people.

West Bakr Wind is on an important bird migration path, and Lekela has assured that it is working closely with authorities to ensure that wildlife is protected. The company is participating in a “shut down on demand” program, meaning that when birds are detected the turbines are able to be stopped.

Migratory birds monitoring training program

Lekela stated that it has also signed a protocol with the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency and its Migratory Soaring Birds project to contribute towards the funding and implementation of the Migratory Birds Monitoring training program.

“As a long-term operator with a long-term outlook, we are focused on delivering lasting impact. It is not enough to just invest money, which is why we focus on creating generation-spanning benefits for local communities. West Bakr Wind is the latest milestone in our plan to achieve this,” said Antonopoulos.

Sabah Mashaly, Egyptian Electricity Transmission Company Chairman, added: “This agreement is an important step and an integral part of our ambitious new and renewable energy strategy – to generate 20% of our energy capacity from renewable energy by 2022. This also comes within the framework of the legislation provided by the Egyptian government with all the involved authorities to facilitate the work of all investors in the energy sector.”

The Power Purchase Agreement, Network Connection Contract with the Egyptian Electricity Transmission Company (EETC) and Usufruct Agreement were all signed in February 2019, shortly after the project received cabinet approval.

Financing has been provided by the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the U.S. government’s development finance institution, International Finance Corporation, and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy will install 96 of its SG 2.6-114 turbines through a turnkey EPC contract and will provide long-term maintenance services through a 15-year Long Term Services Agreement.

This article was adapted from one that first appeared on the ESI Africa website.

Ireland’s renewables expansion to attract massive investment says report

Ireland is set to add 5.8 GW of non-hydro renewable power capacity over the next decade to reach a total 9.6 GW by 2030.

This will account for 65 per cent of the country’s installed capacity and see significant market growth in associated ancillary services and technologies.

This is according to figures released in GlobalData’s latest report, ‘Ireland Power Market Outlook to 2030, Update 2019 – Market Trends, Regulations, and Competitive Landscape.

The report further reveals that to achieve a 9.6 GW non-hydro renewables capacity by 2030, Ireland will boost its investment in offshore wind and solar PV capacity. During the forecast period, offshore wind capacity is set to increase from 25 MW to 1.9 GW at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 48.8 per cent, and solar PV will rise from 25 MW to 1.3GW at a CAGR of 43 per cent.

During the same period, power consumption in Ireland will see a minimal increase, reaching 31.4 terawatt hour (TWh) in 2030 from 27.9TWh in 2019 (a marginal 1.1 per cent  CAGR).

According to Arkapal Sil, power industry analyst at GlobalData: “Ireland’s offshore wind and solar PV capacity, has considerable potential, which will push the contribution of renewable power to installed capacity to 62 per cent by 2025 and 65 per cent by 2030.

“This will open up new markets for wind turbines and modules for solar plants, as well as associated equipment required for transmitting generated power to the grid. The market for laying cables under the sea will also be a key business opportunity in the country.”

This addition to Ireland’s renewable power capacity is being driven by various government incentives and policies intended to fill the void left by the phasing out of coal in 2025.

Renewable capacity expansion will necessitate grid modernization in order to manage much higher volumes of renewable energy with inherent variability. This, in turn, will involve huge investment in grid infrastructure along with the introduction of energy storage systems to enable a steady supply of power when renewable energy is unavailable.

Sil adds: “With a minimal increase in power consumption expected, Ireland’s gas-based power capacity, which provides the country’s base-load power demand, combined with those new renewable resources with integrated energy storage systems are well placed to meet the country’s power demands over the next decade.”


University of Notre Dame breaks ground on 2.5-MW hydroelectric generation facility

The University of Notre Dame and South Bend’s Venues Parks & Arts have broken ground on a 2.5-MW hydroelectric generation facility at an existing city-owned dam on the St. Joseph River in downtown South Bend, Ind.

The facility, which will be primarily underground, is expected to generate about 7% of the university’s electrical needs and offset nearly 9,700 tons of carbon dioxide annually. Underground transmission lines will transmit the electricity generated by the new facility to campus.

Per an agreement signed in 2016, Notre Dame will lease the site for 50 years after the city transferred a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission exemption to the university to operate a hydropower facility.

“In 2015, inspired and guided by Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’, Notre Dame renewed our commitment to reduce the University’s carbon emissions and join others in becoming better stewards of the Earth, our common home,” said Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., the university’s president. “Today we move another step closer to our sustainability goals with construction of this facility. We are grateful to the city of South Bend and all of our partners who are helping us harness the power of the St. Joseph River to bring clean, renewable energy to Notre Dame.”

The restoration of Seitz Park, which is adjacent to the dam, also kicked off in conjunction with the hydro facility construction. Notre Dame will pay the city $1 million to assist with the renovation of the park.

“This project speaks to a number of city priorities, including our commitment to sustainability, our ongoing improvements to the South Bend parks and trails system, and our strong partnership with the University of Notre Dame,” said South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. “It is another boost to the East Bank’s renaissance and helps mark the St. Joseph River as a key downtown asset.”

The hydro facility is expected to be completed by the summer of 2021, while Seitz Park is expected to reopen by fall of 2021.

The hydro plant is one facet in Notre Dame’s sustainability plan, which is designed to eliminate the use of coal in the university’s power plant by the end of 2020 and cut its carbon footprint by half by 2030. The plan targets six key areas: energy and emissions; water; building and construction; waste; procurement, licensing and sourcing; and education, research and community outreach. To date, the university has reduced its carbon emissions by 49%.

Europe’s wind potential is 100 times higher, could power the world

Europe can potentially generate 100 times the current amount of energy generated, and produce enough power to power the world until 2050, if it were to maximize land use for onshore wind capacity.

That’s according to a new analysis by the UK’s University of Sussex and Denmark’s Aarhus University.

The researchers have found that should all of Europe’s onshore wind capacity be realized, total generation on the continent would reach 52.5 TW – enough to power the globe until 2050. That figure translates to 1 MW for every 16 European citizens.

The researchers analyzed geographical information systems (GIS)-based wind atlases and found that 46% of Europe is suitable for onshore wind facilities, providing capacity for a further 11 million wind turbines to be installed on just shy of 5 million square kilometers of suitable land.

Turkey, Russia and Norway have been identified as having the most potential for future wind power development. However, most of Western Europe is also considered suitable for further wind generation because of suitable wind speeds and large stretches of flat land.

“The study is not a blueprint for development but a guide for policymakers indicating the potential of how much more can be done and where the prime opportunities exist,” said Benjamin Sovacool, professor of energy policy at the University of Sussex and co-author of the study. “Our study suggests that the horizon is bright for the onshore wind sector and that European aspirations for a 100% renewable energy grid are within our collective grasp technologically.

“Obviously, we are not saying that we should install turbines in all the identified sites but the study does show the huge wind power potential right across Europe which needs to be harnessed if we’re to avert a climate catastrophe.”

This article first appeared in our sister title Smart Energy International.

Softbank invests $110M in new energy storage system

Energy Vault, the creator of a new way to perform utility-scale energy storage,  announced that SoftBank Vision Fund (Vision Fund) invested $110 million in its Series B funding round. Energy Vault will use the funds to accelerate global deployment of its technology, which enables renewables to deliver baseload power for less than the cost of fossil fuels 24 hours a day, said the company. As part of the investment, Andreas Hansson, Partner for SoftBank Investment Advisers, will join the Energy Vault board of directors.

Energy Vault’s  technology was inspired by pumped hydro plants that rely on the power of gravity and the movement of water to store and discharge electricity. The company’s solution is based on the same well-understood fundamentals of physics and mechanical engineering used in those plants, but replaces water with custom made composite bricks. The bricks, each weighing 35 metric tons, are combined with Energy Vault’s  system design and machine vision software to operate a newly designed crane, said the company in a press release.

Software autonomously orchestrates the energy storage tower and electricity charge/discharge utilizing predictive intelligence and a unique stack of proprietary algorithms that account for a variety of factors, including energy supply and demand volatility, grid stability, weather elements and other variables. As a result, the technology can deliver all the benefits of a large scale pumped hydro storage system, but at a much lower levelized cost, higher roundtrip efficiency and without the requirement for specific land topography and negative environmental impacts, according to Energy Vault.

“As we pursue our mission to enable renewable energy to replace fossil fuels 24 hours a day, we’re thrilled to partner with SoftBank Vision Fund as we expand our global presence,” said Robert Piconi, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder, Energy Vault. “The Vision Fund shares our passion to combat climate change through innovation in energy storage technologies and, with its support as a strategic partner, Energy Vault is well positioned to meet the large and currently unmet demand for sustainable and economical energy storage worldwide.”

Below is a video that shows how the system works. 

Energy Storage is a hot topic at POWERGEN. Come to New Orleans this November 19-21 to learn all about it. 

Net zero carbon emissions ‘impossible’ without hydrogen says UK energy alliance

The UK’s North West Hydrogen Alliance (NWHA) is calling for government investment in hydrogen projects to meet ambitious carbon reductions targets in Britain.

Earlier this year the UK government enshrined in law a commitment to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and Professor Joseph Howe, Chair of the NWHA, said: “The importance of hydrogen in reaching net zero carbon emissions can’t be underestimated.”

The North West of England is one of several clusters bidding for over £130m of government funding to establish the world’s first net-zero carbon industrial cluster by 2040.

The North West Energy & Hydrogen Cluster is a partnership of companies, regional leaders and academic experts and is home to HyNet, one of the country’s leading hydrogen and Carbon Capture Storage and Utilisation (CCUS) projects.

Members of the North West Hydrogen Alliance include Atkins/SNC-Lavalin, BOC, Cadent, Costain, Peel Environmental and Shell.

In a letter to Secretary of State Andrea Leadsom, the NWHA has pointed to the vital role of hydrogen within the Cluster and urged the new administration under Boris Johnson to emulate its predecessors’ commitment in the Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to developing a hydrogen economy in the UK.

Professor Howe said that “some might say it’s impossible” to see how the UK would reach its net zero carbon targets without. “In the North West we’ve been working for years on developing a hydrogen economy that can be replicated across the UK. We’re lucky that we have all the elements you need – the industry, the infrastructure and the innovation that could make this a reality.

“Hydrogen has shot to the top of the agenda and is now widely recognised as a vital part of the energy mix. We have the private sector in the North West ready to invest and with Government support we can deliver something that’s transformational not only for the region but for the whole of the UK.”

The announcement comes as the NWHA expands its membership with engineering consultancy Otto Simon and Storengy as the newest partners to bring their expertise to the organisation.

Otto Simon is working on projects to utilise blended and pure hydrogen as a fuel source. Peter Creer, Technical Director at Otto Simon, said:“There are some really exciting hydrogen projects taking place right now in the North West. We’re not just talking about developing a hydrogen economy, we’re already doing it. We’ve got a long heritage in this region for innovation and we’ve the skills and technical expertise to deliver.”

Storengy is leading the country in developing modern salt cavern storage for hydrogen with plans to start building a hydrogen storage facility at its Stublach site in Cheshire by 2020. The company is also developing hydrogen electrolysis and transport projects working with a number of partners.

Duncan Yellen from Storengy said: “Hydrogen storage is an important part of the jigsaw, providing the flexibility to respond to energy demands and ensuring we make the most of our resources. We have unique geology in the North West with salt caverns able to store huge quantities of hydrogen. We’ve already been using them to store gas for years and we’re looking at how they could be repurposed and become part of the decarbonisation story.”

The potential of hydrogen in Europe’s energy sector will be explored in detail by speakers at European Utility Week and POWERGEN Europe in Paris in November. Click here for details.


Stanford researchers develop technology to harness energy from mixing of freshwater and seawater

A new battery made from affordable and durable materials generates energy from places where salt and fresh waters mingle. The technology could make coastal wastewater treatment plants energy-independent and carbon neutral.

By Rob Jordan, Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment

Salt is power. It might sound like alchemy, but the energy in places where salty ocean water and freshwater mingle could provide a massive source of renewable power. Stanford researchers have developed an affordable, durable technology that could harness this so-called blue energy.

The paper, recently published in American Chemical Society’s ACS Omega, describes the battery and suggests using it to make coastal wastewater treatment plants energy-independent.

“Blue energy is an immense and untapped source of renewable energy,” said study coauthor Kristian Dubrawski, a postdoctoral scholar in civil and environmental engineering at Stanford. “Our battery is a major step toward practically capturing that energy without membranes, moving parts or energy input.”

Dubrawski works in the lab of study co-author Craig Criddle, a professor of civil and environmental engineering known for interdisciplinary field projects of energy-efficient technologies. The idea of developing a battery that taps into salt gradients originated with study coauthors Yi Cui, a professor of materials science and engineering, and Mauro Pasta, a postdoctoral scholar in materials science and engineering at the time of the research. Applying that concept to coastal wastewater treatment plants was Criddle’s twist, born of his long experience developing technologies for wastewater treatment.

The researchers tested a prototype of the battery, monitoring its energy production while flushing it with alternating hourly exchanges of wastewater effluent from the Palo Alto Regional Water Quality Control Plant and seawater collected nearby from Half Moon Bay. Over 180 cycles, battery materials maintained 97 percent effectiveness in capturing the salinity gradient energy.

The technology could work any place where fresh and saltwater intermix, but wastewater treatment plants offer a particularly valuable case study. Wastewater treatment is energy-intensive, accounting for about three percent of the total U.S. electrical load. The process – essential to community health – is also vulnerable to power grid shutdowns. Making wastewater treatment plants energy independent would not only cut electricity use and emissions but also make them immune to blackouts – a major advantage in places such as California, where recent wildfires have led to large-scale outages.

Water power

Every cubic meter of freshwater that mixes with seawater produces about .65 kilowatt-hours of energy – enough to power the average American house for about 30 minutes. Globally, the theoretically recoverable energy from coastal wastewater treatment plants is about 18 gigawatts – enough to power more than 15 million homes continuously.

The Stanford group’s battery isn’t the first technology to succeed in capturing blue energy, but it’s the first to use battery electrochemistry instead of pressure or membranes. If it works at scale, the technology would offer a more simple, robust and cost-effective solution.

The process first releases sodium and chloride ions from the battery electrodes into the solution, making the current flow from one electrode to the other. Then, a rapid exchange of wastewater effluent with seawater leads the electrode to reincorporate sodium and chloride ions and reverse the current flow. Energy is recovered during both the freshwater and seawater flushes, with no upfront energy investment and no need for charging. This means that the battery is constantly discharging and recharging without needing any input of energy.

Durable and affordable technology

While lab tests showed power output is still low per electrode area, the battery’s scale-up potential is considered more feasible than previous technologies due to its small footprint, simplicity, constant energy creation and lack of membranes or instruments to control charge and voltage. The electrodes are made with Prussian Blue, a material widely used as a pigment and medicine, that costs less than $1 a kilogram, and polypyrrole, a material used experimentally in batteries and other devices, which sells for less than $3 a kilogram in bulk.

There’s also little need for backup batteries, as the materials are relatively robust, a polyvinyl alcohol and sulfosuccinic acid coating protects the electrodes from corrosion and there are no moving parts involved. If scaled up, the technology could provide adequate voltage and current for any coastal treatment plant. Surplus power production could even be diverted to a nearby industrial operation, such as a desalination plant.

“It is a scientifically elegant solution to a complex problem,” Dubrawski said. “It needs to be tested at scale, and it doesn’t address the challenge of tapping blue energy at the global scale – rivers running into the ocean – but it is a good starting point that could spur these advances.”

To assess the battery’s full potential in municipal wastewater plants, the researchers are working on a scaled version to see how the system functions with multiple batteries working simultaneously.

This article was first published by the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and was reprinted with permission. 

U.S. announces changes to implementing regulations of the Endangered Species Act

U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt has unveiled changes to the implementing regulations of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) that Interior says is “designed to increase transparency and effectiveness and bring the administration of the Act into the 21st century.”

The changes finalized by Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of Commerce’s National Marine Fisheries Service apply to ESA sections 4 and 7. Section 4, among other things, deals with adding species to or removing species from the Act’s protections and designating critical habitat. Section 7 covers consultations with other federal agencies.

“The revisions finalized with this rulemaking fit squarely within the President’s mandate of easing the regulatory burden on the American public, without sacrificing our species’ protection and recovery goals,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. “These changes were subject to a robust, transparent public process, during which we received significant public input that helped us finalize these rules.”

The ESA directs that determinations to add or remove a species from the lists of threatened or endangered species be based solely on the best available scientific and commercial information. The regulations retain language stating, “The Secretary shall make a [listing] determination solely on the basis of the best scientific and commercial information regarding a species’ status.”

The revisions clarify that the standards for delisting and reclassification of a species consider the same five statutory factors as the listing of a species.

According to a press release, while this administration recognizes the value of critical habitat as a conservation tool, in some cases, designation of critical habitat is not prudent. Revisions to the regulations identify a non-exhaustive list of such circumstances, but this will continue to be rare exceptions.

When designating critical habitat, the regulations reinstate the requirement that areas where threatened or endangered species are present at the time of listing be evaluated first before unoccupied areas are considered. In addition, the regulations impose a heightened standard for unoccupied areas to be designated as critical habitat. On top of the existing standard that the designated unoccupied habitat is essential to the conservation of the species, it must also, at the time of designation, contain one or more of the physical or biological features essential to the species’ conservation.

To ensure federal government actions are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of listed species or destroy or adversely modify their critical habitat, federal agencies must consult with FWE and NMFS under section 7 of the Act.

The revisions codify alternative consultation mechanisms that may provide greater efficiency for how ESA consultations are conducted. They also establish a deadline for informal consultations to provide greater certainty for federal agencies and applicants of timely decisions, without compromising conservation of ESA-listed species.

Revisions to the definitions of “destruction or adverse modification,” “effects of the action” and “environmental baseline” further improve the consultation process by providing clarity and consistency, Interior says.

In addition to the final joint regulations, FWS finalized a separate revision rescinding its “blanket rule” under section 4(d) of the ESA. The rule had automatically given threatened species the same protections as endangered species unless otherwise specified.

NMFS has never employed such a blanket rule, so the new regulations bring the two agencies into alignment. The change impacts only future threatened species’ listings or reclassifications from endangered to threatened status and does not apply to species already listed as threatened. FWS will craft species-specific 4(d) rules for each future threatened species determination as deemed necessary and advisable for the conservation of the species.