Florida utility to close natural gas plants, build massive solar-powered battery

Rows of solar panels under a cloudy sky.

Enlarge / Solar panels in Arcadia, Florida. (credit: Brooks Kraft LLC/Corbis via Getty Images)

Florida Power and Light (FPL) announced that it would retire two natural gas plants and replace those plants with what is likely to be the world’s largest solar-powered battery bank when it’s completed in 2021.

FPL, a subsidiary of NextEra Energy, serves approximately 10 million customers in Florida. The utility says its plan, including additional efficiency upgrades and smaller battery installations throughout its service area, will save customers more than $100 million in aggregate through avoided fuel costs. FPL also says its battery and upgrade plan will help avoid 1 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

The plan calls for the construction of a 409 megawatt (MW) / 900 megawatt-hour battery installation at what will be called the FPL Manatee Energy Storage Center. For context, the largest battery installation in the world was built by Tesla at a Hornsdale wind farm in South Australia; that has a capacity and power rating of 100 MW / 129 MWh.

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Company that sucks CO2 from air announces a new methane-producing plant

Giant intake pipes for air capture

Enlarge / Air capture at Climeworks’ Troia, Italy, plant. (credit: Climeworks)

delivered 4,000 gallons of jet fuel made from steel-plant waste gases to Virgin Atlantic. Now, Swiss company Climeworks has announced the opening of a new plant in Italy that will collect carbon dioxide (CO2) from ambient air and pair it with renewably made hydrogen (H2) to make methane fuel that would add little or no COto the atmosphere.

The plant in Troia, Italy, was completed in July and went into operation this week as part of a research program funded by the European Union.

This will be Climeworks’ third carbon-capture plant. The first captured carbon out of ambient air using a filter of base amines that would bind with more acidic CO2. The captured carbon was sent to a greenhouse to speed plant growth. The second was based in Iceland at a geothermal plant that released some volcanic CO2. Climeworks’ small plant captures that carbon and injects it back into the ground, where mineral reactions help the CO2 bind with basalt, essentially storing the gas as a rock.

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International Energy Agency predicts wind will dominate Europe’s grid by 2027

A view of wind turbines from the coast

Enlarge / Scroby Sands offshore wind farm, Caister, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England. (credit: Photo by: Geography Photos/UIG via Getty Images)

IEA’s forecasts (PDF) put wind just beating all other electricity sources with a 23-percent share of the energy mix. “Other Renewables” like biomass plants contribute a little over 20 percent, gas adds 20 percent, nuclear contributes just a little below 20 percent, and coal declines to just over 10 percent. Solar energy contributes about six or seven percent in the IEA’s 2027 scenario.

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After working with Tesla’s Australia battery, wind company wants more batteries

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Enlarge / Bloomberg Best of the Year 2017: Powerpacks which will be used to form the world’s largest lithium-ion battery stand on display during a Tesla Inc. event at the Hornsdale wind farm, operated by Neoen SAS, near Jamestown, South Australia, on Friday, Sept. 29, 2017. (credit: Carla Gottgens/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

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Potential buyers for largest coal plant in the Western US back out

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Enlarge / Navajo Generating Station and Navajo Mountain. (Photo by: Education Images/UIG via Getty Images) (credit: Getty Images)

Kayenta mine, which is owned by the world’s largest private coal firm, Peabody Energy. After the news of NGS’ proposed shutdown, Peabody began a search for a potential buyer for the coal plant so as not to lose its only customer.

The Salt River Project, the majority-owner of NGS, published a press release on Thursday saying Peabody Energy retained a consulting firm to identify potential buyers of the massive coal plant. That firm came up with 16 potential buyers who had expressed some interest. Salt River Project says that it hosted numerous tours for prospective buyers and set up meetings with various regulators as well as the Navajo Nation. Ultimately, a Chicago firm called Middle River Power and a New York City firm called Avenue Capital Group (which invests in “companies in financial distress”) had entered into negotiations to potentially take over the coal plant and keep it running.

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As coal stalls, Wyoming considers new environmental clean-up rules

Dumptruck full of coal drives through strip mining area.

Enlarge / GILLETTE, Wyo.: A truck loaded with coal is viewed from the Eagle Butte Coal Mine Overlook which is operated by Alpha Coal. The area is a large producer of coal. Gillette uses the moniker of “The Energy Capital of the Nation”. (Photo by (credit: Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

according to the Casper Star-Tribune.

The board’s passage of the proposed rules is somewhat surprising in a coal-heavy state, because it could potentially raise the cost of coal mining in Wyoming for some companies. However, there is political support for more stringent environmental rules after a number of coal companies filed for bankruptcy in recent years. Although no companies ended up abandoning mine cleanup to the state, the specter of hundreds of millions of dollars of cleanup in the event of another coal downturn has left regulators eager to limit how much damage the state could be on the hook for. The five-person advisory board voted 4-1 in favor of limiting self-bonding. The board member who voted against limits to self-bonding works for Peabody Energy, a major coal producer in the state.

The limits wouldn’t do away with self-bonding in Wyoming. Instead, to qualify for self-bonding, a coal company would have to have a strong credit-rating and would be expected to run the mine for at least five more years. The Star-Tribune notes that credit ratings for coal firms also factor in the health of the market, so the state of Wyoming wouldn’t have to independently evaluate the larger economic risks to a mine going under.

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In 2017, four US states generated more than 30% of their electricity from wind

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Enlarge / Wind turbines on private working ranch land on August 1, 2017 near Kevin, Montana. (credit: Getty Images / William Campbell-Corbis)

made bizarre and wandering remarks about “windmills” being an inferior source of energy, the Department of Energy (DoE) released the 2017 Wind Technology Report (PDF), showing that wind energy had an extremely successful year.

In four states—Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, and South Dakota—wind contributed 30 to 37 percent of each state’s entire electricity generation. These are fairly unique cases, because the states are sparsely populated and benefit from areas with high wind speeds. But the fraction of wind-generated electricity is growing in many other states, too. Fourteen states had more than 10 percent of their energy come from wind. On a wider scale, wind contributed just 6.3 percent of national generation, although that’s up from 5.7 percent in 2016.

Still, the US is behind a number of countries in how much wind power meets electricity demand. The DOE writes that “wind power capacity is estimated to supply the equivalent of 48 percent of Denmark’s electricity demand, and roughly 30 percent of demand in Ireland and in Portugal.” This year, Portugal had several days in March where renewable energy supply exceeded electricity demand.

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Are diesel’s days numbered? A view from a trip to BYD’s electric bus factory

Enlarge / The lines of sight in the BYD factory are all like this: a row of buses stretching to the horizon. (credit: Megan Geuss)

One single diesel transit bus consumes the equivalent of 10,440 gallons of gasoline a year, according to the Federal Highway Administration. Replacing that diesel-burning transit bus with an electric bus has some obvious benefits. Electric buses improve local air quality, because the particulates that come from burning diesel don’t exist. And, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, an electric bus runs cleaner than a diesel bus no matter where you plug it in on the US grid, even if you’re plugging into a grid fed by fossil fuels.

In the desert north of Los Angeles, a Chinese company called BYD (short for “Build Your Dreams”) is banking on transit managers realizing this. BYD offered Ars a tour of its Lancaster facility in July, and we found a bustling factory floor filled with 900 workers who were building, welding, shaping, and painting about 90 buses in various stages of completion. The company’s workforce, recently unionized, is expected to grow to 1,200 in the near future.

So far, BYD has put more than 250 electric buses on US roads, and, as of mid-July, the company had more than 400 orders in the pipeline. That’s a significant number of buses in this nascent industry: last December, Reuters estimated that only 300 public buses on US roads were electric. Of course, BYD’s numbers include publicly and privately owned electric buses, while Reuters’ statistic only tallies public buses. Still, the numbers show just how aggressively the electric bus industry is growing, considering the size of the market just six months ago.

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Report: Tesla’s latest production troubles are happening at its solar factory

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Reuters reports that Tesla’s Buffalo, New York, factory, which is run in partnership with Panasonic, is experiencing severe assembly line issues, especially impacting Tesla’s ability to manufacture solar roof tiles.

Reuters’ information comes from eight current and former employees of both Panasonic and Tesla. According to those sources, the aesthetic qualities of the solar roof tiles are among the issues holding up production. Tesla has allegedly been using cells from JA Solar instead of cells from Panasonic, because the JA Solar cells have the preferred level of reflectivity. Panasonic, meanwhile, has been courting offers to sell its cells to other panel makers.

In a statement sent to Ars, Tesla said: “We are steadily ramping Solar Roof production at Gigafactory 2 in Buffalo and are also continuing to iterate on the product design and production process, learning from our early factory production and field installations.”

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Californian, Hawaiian homeowners charging ahead on residential batteries

(credit: sonnen)

the report said. Where once a California or Hawaii homeowner might have received significant compensation from the local utility for producing rooftop electricity, now those programs are being limited, so homeowners are turning to batteries to capture excess energy made during the day. In California, utilities are adopting so-called Time of Use pricing, so investing in a battery can help homes continue to run when prices are highest. Consequently, “California and Hawaii together constitute 74 percent of residential deployments on the quarter,” according to the ESA.

Outside of the residential sector, past policies have created the appearance of volatility in the energy storage industry. The market as a whole, including utility-grade storage and commercial storage (like batteries serving warehouses, for example), grew 26 percent quarter-over-quarter but declined 46 percent year-over-year in terms of megawatt-hour added in Q1 2018. This is largely due to the fact that California mandated that utilities build out significant amounts of energy storage in 2017, after the Aliso Canyon natural gas leak depleted the fuel that the state had stored.

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