Posts by Samuel R. Avro
The following article was written by S. Michael Holly, the Chairman of Sorgo Fuels & Chemicals, Inc. Sorgo has developed technology for the production of ethanol, electricity and protein from sweet sorghum. Mike was formerly an alternative energy engineer and business analyst with the Minnesota Department of Energy and Economic Development. He holds masters degrees in chemical engineering and business administration from the University of Minnesota.
Many U.S. special interests are misrepresenting wind power costs, including the wind industry, environmental groups, utility monopolies, independent system operators, educational and research institutions, and even federal and state governments. On September 24, Bill Ritter, the current director of the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University and former Governor of Colorado, wrote in the Wall Street Journal that “Long-term contracts for wind energy are being signed by utilities in several states in the range of 3 cents per kWh over 20 years” (1). Xcel Energy, the nation’s leading wind-generating electric utility, declares “wind power is simply the cheapest resource” (2).
By Sam Shrank and Raphael Tehranian
Utilities find themselves in unfamiliar positions as they chart their course in areas such as alternative fuel vehicles, smart grid, and distributed generation. In this last piece of our four-part series (See Part I by Mat McDermid, Finding the Regulated Utility Role in a Shifting Energy Landscape; Part II by Sam Shrank, How Behavioral Science Can Increase Energy Efficiency Adoption; and Part III by Jill Bunting and Raphael Tehranian, How Utilities Can Better Source Innovation), we discuss how partnerships with individual large customers to test new offerings, alongside traditional pilots, can help utilities find solid ground. Partnerships can both demonstrate to regulators that customers benefit from utility involvement in these areas and help utilities scope their ideal role.
Utilities have a long and successful track record of using technology demonstration pilots to better understand new innovations, test their ability to solve problems, provide increased or new benefits, and gauge customer and stakeholder interest. In a changing business environment, however, expanding into more customer-centric pilots would greatly help utilities position themselves to protect and expand their market standing.
Customer-centric energy partnerships of this type cover a broad spectrum, but there are a few required elements. First, they must begin with the selection of a customer partner, not a technology or utility offering. Second, the customer’s goals should determine the expanded or new offering, or most likely suite of offerings, included. Third, rather than lasting for a predetermined and usually short amount of time, they are meant to be merely the beginning of an ongoing relationship.
The following guest article was written by Mathias Aarre Maehlum, an Energy and Environmental engineering student from Norway. He frequently writes on the topics of solar power and other green techs. Read more of his work at his site Energy Informative.
The Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory (LBNL) has recently published a study that looks at the price differences in the solar panel industry in Germany and the U.S. By looking at pre-incentivized prices paid for customer-owned systems (third-party-owned systems were not included in the study), they were able to pinpoint the major differences between the two countries.
In the last five years, German solar panel prices have dropped by more than 50%. Some places in the U.S. are almost on par with German prices, but on average the study found a pretty significant gap:
Image source: Environmental Energy Technologies Division
Unfair Profits or Lots of Volume?
Most people, if asked to name off the top of their head which industries were taking advantage of consumers to generate insanely high profits, would likely have the oil and gas industry at the top of their list. Isn’t it a well-known fact that with gas prices spiraling through the roof, “Big Oil” is by far the most profitable industry out there, hence they must be taking advantage of consumers?
Actually, it’s not that simple. But public opinion would have it otherwise.
In fact, industries such as internet information providers and personal computers rank well above major integrated oil and gas (Big Oil) when it comes to profit margins. The simple definition of profit margin is: A ratio of profitability calculated as net income divided by revenues, or net profits divided by sales. It measures how much out of every dollar of sales a company actually keeps in earnings.
Generation from wind turbines in the United States increased 27% in 2011 from the prior year, and is up 350% since 2006.
“During the past five years capacity additions of wind turbines were the main driver of the growth in wind power output,” the U.S. Department of Energy reported. “As the amount of wind generation increases, electric power system operators have faced challenges with integrating increasing amounts of this intermittent generation source into their systems.”
Foreign Oil Imports at Lowest Level Since Before Y2K
U.S. crude oil imports have fallen to their lowest level since 1999, according to data provided by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), an arm of the U.S. Department Of Energy (DOE).
Crude oil imports for 2011 averaged 8.9 million barrels per day (bbl/d), falling below the 9 million bbl/d mark for the first time since 1999, and down 12 percent since hitting a peak of 10.1 million bbl/d in 2005.
Gas Price Breakdown: It’s All About the Cost of Crude Oil
“What am I paying for in a gallon of gas?” is a question on people’s minds and often posed by regular visitors to Consumer Energy Report. With the assistance of the Energy Information Administration, who provided the data (see the methodology they used for calculating the component percentages at the end of this column), I was able to break it down into a series of charts from 2000-2012.
For a more detailed look into the recent spike in gas prices, see: Charting the Dramatic Gas Price Rise of the Last Decade
Different Situation, But Prices Are Not Unprecedented
In a previous column, I pointed out that — perhaps surprisingly — the price we’ve been paying for gas lately, compared to 90 years ago, is not as high as people would think — that is, once the rate of inflation is factored in to the equation. For instance, while motorists may have been paying only $0.25/gallon in 1919, when converting that number to February 2012 dollars, the cost was $3.35/gallon — a mere 6.5 percent cheaper than 2011′s annual average of $3.57/gallon. The chart below shows the price movement (based on February 2012 dollars) from 1919-2011.
Inflation Adjusted Data
Gas prices are spiraling through the roof like never seen before. People often point to specific years that gas was so cheap, in an effort to blame politicians, Big Oil, or whomever else is the flavor of the day. Indeed, a gallon of gas was going for only a quarter of a dollar in the years after World War I, and even less than that before and after World War II.
But the key fact that’s missing from all the ranting and raving is the rate of inflation. The simple definition of inflation according to Wikipedia is: “A rise in the general level of prices of goods and services in an economy over a period of time.” Keep in mind, that at the end of World War I, average annual income was only $1,500. Currently, annual income is around $50,000.
For this exercise I plotted various sets of data in graphs — sometimes combined — based on information compiled by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) statistical office, the Energy Information Administration (EIA). The purpose of this two-part segment is to provide a clearer understanding of how much the price of gas has actually gone up relative to a family’s budget and other household costs, and most importantly, during what time frame.
On a recent trip to Canada, I passed through Kingston, Ontario — home to Canadian Forces Base Kingston (CFB Kingston). A solar power installation just off the roadway — inside the perimeter of the base — caught my attention. Unfortunately, the reason it captured my attention was because the solar panels looked like the side of a trash can.
The picture tells the story.