Articles You Might Have Missed

Around the world people are taking the initiative to mitigate climate change. Here are some good news briefs compiled by the Climate Issue group of the LWV of Bellingham/Whatcom.

We hear a lot about switching to electric cars, but anyone who has traveled by air lately can see how big the fleets are. While we are nowhere near seeing the system electrified, there are some promising first steps.


Is This the Beginning of the End of Coal?

With the end of the year came a flurry of coal plant closures. The Prime Minister of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina finally confirmed that the proposed 450 MW Tuzla 7 lignite unit, which has been at the centre of controversy since it was first proposed in 2011, will not proceed. The rapid increase in U.S. solar and wind generation is driving U.S. coal production to levels on a par with the early 1960s. Another factor is the steady rate of coal plant closures. For example, in late December, the first of three units at the Sherburne County Generating Station in Minnesota finally closed. It is a similar pattern elsewhere. Plants in Germany and Poland revived in 2022 to provide short-term energy security have also closed.

U.S. coal production to slump in 2024: The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasts a dramatic decline in U.S. coal production of 90 million short tons (82 million tonnes) to 490 million short tons (445 million tonnes) in 2024 and a further fall of 60 million short tons (54 million tonnes) in 2025 to 430 million short tons (390 million tonnes), mainly due to an increase in solar and wind generation.

“You’ve got all these mines [in Wyoming] chasing fewer and fewer customers, fewer and fewer tonnes getting shipped out. How long can all of these mines stay viable?” asked Seth Feaster from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.

CoalWire Bulletin published by The Global Energy Monitor, 1/11/24, Issue 496, editor: Bob Burton.


Hawaii Pioneers a New Electrical Grid

How do you maintain a reliable grid while switching from familiar fossil plants to a portfolio of small and large renewables that run off the vagaries of the weather? 

When Hawaii shut down its last coal plant on September 1, 2022, eliminating 180 megawatts of fossil-fueled baseload power from the grid on Oahu, they needed to find just that. 

The answer was the Kapolei Energy System: an unusual giant battery. One hundred fifty-eight Tesla Megapacks are charging and discharging based on signals from the utility Hawaiian Electric. The plant’s 185 megawatts of instantaneous discharge capacity match what the old coal plant could inject into the grid, though the batteries react far more quickly, with a 250-millisecond response time. 

Developed by Plus Power, a Houston-based energy company, these energy packs don’t generate power; they absorb it from the grid, ideally when it’s flush with renewable generation, and deliver that cheap, clean power back in the evening hours when it’s desperately needed.

Grid batteries operate in a fundamentally different way than coal plants, so Hawaiian Electric and Plus Power crafted a new framework to replace what needed to be replaced. The old coal generator provided three key values to Oahu: energy (the bulk volume of electricity), capacity (the instantaneous delivery of power on command), and grid services (stabilizing functions for the grid, wonky but vital to keeping the lights on).

The battery directly replaces the latter two: it matches the coal plant’s maximum power output and it is programmed to deliver the necessary grid services that keep the grid operating in the right parameters. The grid runs within a certain frequency, but events can cause the frequency to stray out of bounds, say if another power plant trips offline or a sudden rush of solar production outstrips consumption. The Kapolei project provides a first line of defense, called ​“synthetic inertia,” responding to and correcting grid deviations in real time. If the situation continues to deteriorate past a specified threshold, the battery’s fast frequency response kicks in as a second line of defense.

The combination of all these abilities in one site — capacity, grid services, black start — leads Plus Power’s Chairman Brandon Keefe to call Kapolei ​“the most advanced battery energy storage facility on the planet.”

Longer-term, U.S. climate goals require a phaseout of fossil fuels from the electric grid. Hydropower and nuclear plants help deliver valuable grid inertia without carbon emissions, but they aren’t on track to grow.

That’s why this project matters to the clean energy shift everywhere: it’s one of the first real-life examples of how to shift critical grid functions from fossil-fueled plants to clean-energy plants. And eventually, the kind of grid services Kapolei has pioneered will have to scale nationwide.

Canary Media, 1/10/24 by Julian Spector


Resilience by Design

Hunters Point is the first residential development in the world to get a LEED Zero Energy certification, according to the U.S. Green Building Council, which means the entire community produces more electricity than it consumes. This style of construction offers a model of sustainable building in an era of climate change, according to Avery McEvoy, who researches carbon-free electricity at the Rocky Mountain Institute, a clean-energy think tank.

You may be surprised it is in Florida. “We haven’t had a power bill yet,” said William Fullford, 76, a retired contractor who spent decades building custom homes before moving to Florida. “If I ever do build another house, it’s going to have solar. It makes quite a difference.”

When Hurricane Ian slammed into southwest Florida in 2022 and left millions without power, the Fulfords’ lights stayed on.

Resilience matters to this coastal neighborhood because Hunters Point sits on a low, canal-lined peninsula jutting out into Sarasota Bay. It’s protected from the storm-surge-prone Gulf of Mexico by a narrow barrier island less than 1,000 feet wide at its nearest point.

The Florida-based developer behind the project elevated the streets of Hunters Point 3.5 feet above the existing ground level and created a low-lying central park that allows water to drain off the road after floods. Each of the homes is built atop a first-floor garage, so that all the rooms are at least 17 feet above sea level. The walls are designed to withstand 150 mph winds.

In addition to keeping their own lights on during hurricanes, communities like Hunters Point can make the electric grid more resilient for their neighbors. The concept is called a “virtual power plant,” and there are more than 500 such projects in the United States and Canada, according to a February report from the energy and resource consulting firm Wood Mackenzie. Virtual power plants can help utilities meet peak demand without firing up fossil-fuel fired “peaker plants,” which can ramp up power production at short notice.

The houses are built with efficient appliances, 6 inches of foam insulation throughout the walls, solar panels, efficiency upgrades and double-paned windows. Homeowners can claim 35 percent in federal tax credits — roughly $30,000 — when they file their taxes the first year after moving in.  

Bookmark the permalink.