The implications of cheap natural gas, federal loans for advanced energy projects and the growing role of renewable sources were just a few of the takeaways provided by speakers during the one-day GenForum Dec. 7 in Las Vegas.
The Department of Energy Loan Programs Office still hopes to fund another nuclear reactor project, said Technical and Project Management official Michael Reed.
Southern Co. and its partners in the new Vogtle nuclear units in Georgia are using the government loan program, but SCANA is not using federal loan more for its two new units at the V.C. Summer plant in South Carolina.
“Advanced nuclear still has $12.5 billion available in loan funding,” Reed said.
The DOE program currently has about $30 billion invested in more than 30 diverse projects nationwide. Most of them are either renewable energy projects or helping overcome financing “gaps” for early technology risk for things such as Tesla electric cars.
In 2010, there were basically no large-scale solar power projects in the United States, Reed said. Utility-scale solar has really taken off in part because of the DOE loan program. DOE worked with private lenders and helped get them comfortable with the technology, Reed said. There were more than 5,100 MW of utility-scale solar PV in 2014.
“Energy companies are not making money; none of them are,” said Peabody Energy Vice President Coal Emissions and Conversion Technologies Jacob Williams. The Peabody official doubts that $2 natural gas will continue to be the new norm.
At the same time, U.S. power customers have experienced “pain at the plug,” because electric rate increases have outpaced household income growth since 2000, Williams said.
Williams does not see any game-changing technology emerging to slash carbon dioxide emissions from coal plants in the next 10 years, although co-firing coal plants with biomass holds promise for incremental improvements in the near term.
Twenty-nine states, Washington, D.C., and two territories have a renewable portfolio standard (RPS), said Ingrid Bjorklund, a former Minnesota Public Utilities Commission staffer who now has her own law firm. Energy regulations are increasingly attuned to environmentally sensitivities, Bjorklund said.
Regardless of what happens in court, “utilities have to plan” and are already examining how to implement the EPA Clean Power Plan to cut CO2 32 percent by 2030, Bjorkland said. This shows that irreparable harm is already being done by the EPA proposal, Williams said.
NV Energy Director of Renewable Energy Jesse Murray said his company has 454 MW of utility-scale solar photovoltaic either completed, in construction or in development. Nevada has plenty of “barren land” and people are often approaching the utility about utilizing their land for solar power.
NV Energy is the newest member of the California ISO Energy Imbalance Market (EIM) and Murray views it as being part of a larger “insurance pool,” which distributes risk.
Starting in 2014, Nevada has seen a rapid expansion in distributed generation. Nevada could be moving toward maturity for distributed generation, Murray said.
As a utility, NV Energy is interested in educating customers on its grid services. The traditional grid provides customers with “virtual energy storage” and also provides energy when there is no sun, Murray said. “Distributed generation requires the grid to work,” Murray said.
The relationship between incumbent electric utilities and emerging third-party electricity service providers is akin to Rome versus the Barbarians, said Lon Huber of Strategen Consulting. Utilities are partnering with some of these outside firms and fighting others, he said.
“Battery and thermal storage resources can be installed much more quickly than traditional resources, reducing risk and increasing technology flexibility,” Huber said. Some battery and thermal storage projects can be installed in much less than a year, Huber said.
The U.S. became the world’s largest producer of natural gas in 2010 and has moved from a modest net importer to a net exporter by 2017, said Kevin Casey of Beaufort Rosemary LLC. “The role of gas in power generation will become increasingly important to support variable renewable energy resources at scale,” Casey said.
There continues to be an expansion in natural gas use for power generation, said Mike Welch of Siemens Industrial Turbomachinery. But there is increasing demand for non-power applications too and the trend could put upward pressure on gas prices, Welch said. Three ‘F’ words continue to play a big role in gas-fired power generation: Flexibility, fast response and fracking, Welch said.
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