Five Interesting Energy Stories – April 2019

From Scott Carlberg

Wind power and military power, lithium deposits, sun power and a daily carbon count are some of the five interesting energy stories in April. Every month (every day!) there is something going on in the energy space. We’ll start closest to the Carolinas and then go worldwide.

Getting a Charge in the Carolinas

Lithium-ion batteries are in laptops, cell phones and iPods. They are popular because, pound for pound, they’re some of the most energetic rechargeable batteries available.

The mined mineral lithium is in the Charlotte region. “NC was once a top source of lithium. Growing demand could lead to a mine near Charlotte,” says Charlotte Observer business reporter Bruce Henderson’s story.

A newly formed company, Piedmont Lithium Limited plans to extract lithium from a source just west of Charlotte. There has already been activity in that area.

Bruce’s article says, “The company hopes to break ground on its mine and processing plant by the end of this year and be in full production by early 2021…The company hopes to build, within a few years, a $340 million plant to turn lithium concentrate into a chemical form, lithium hydroxide, that is used in batteries and other applications.” It’s jobs, too, more than 100 for both the mine and processing plant. A future chemical plant would add perhaps 200 more.

The Charlotte region has two lithium-oriented firms already, Livent, a spin-off of FMC Corporation, and then the multi-national Albemarle Corporation, which is HQ’d in Charlotte.

NC Solar Burns Bright

“North Carolina solar power output increased by 36 percent in 2018.” That according to the US Energy Information Agency.

That is second highest of any state. 72 million megawatt-hours of solar generation in 2018. NC was third in the nation for connecting new solar projects in 2018. From the story: “Duke Energy continues to connect more solar to the North Carolina energy grid and promote new customer programs in response to the state’s 2017 solar law,” Stephen De May, Duke Energy’s North Carolina president, said.

The news story said that Duke Energy owns or purchases a significant portion of the solar energy in North Carolina. The company owns and operates more than 35 solar facilities and has invested more than $1 billion in renewable energy in the state.

And speaking about sunlight…

“Solar Power’s Benefits Don’t Shine Equally on Everyone,” said a Scientific American headline recently.

Here’s the start of the story: “Highland Park’s streetlights were torn out in 2011 because the predominantly black Detroit suburb couldn’t pay its electricity bill after the 2008 economic downturn. Today street lamps once again cast reassuring pools of light — and this time they are cheaper, because they harvest the energy of the sun. Highland Park offers an example of what environmental justice advocates hope to do more of to bring affordable, clean energy to communities of color.”

The backstory is that solar costs have gone down a lot, but that doesn’t mean that communities of color get the benefit of the technology. “U.S. residential installation growing by more than 50 percent each year between 2010 and 2016. But access to this energy has not been equitable—and not just because up-front installation costs can price out people with lower incomes.”

ECC has written about energy poverty, it’s when poor households cannot afford the energy bill, partly because their homes are not energy efficient. Solar energy equity was a topic of a Yale University column: “While community solar initiatives vary widely, they tend to share two overarching policy goals. First, states and cities want to reduce living expenses for low-income households, which on average spend 8.2 percent of their income on energy bills — about three times more than moderate- to high-income households.”

Banning Wind Energy Offshore NC?

“North Carolina may ban wind power near coast, military flights.” Debate in NC continues whether offshore wind turbines are a safety problem for military training flights. (Marine Corp Times)

Military, money and energy:

  • One state senator says the wind farms can hinder military training exercises.
  • An Appalachian State sustainable technology expert says, “It would have a major impact to the areas of North Carolina with potential for wind energy development.”
  • 104 turbines along the coast are some of the largest tax payers in two poor NC counties.

Ensuring the safety of our military as they train and building our renewable energy future are both important. If there is a conflict between a growing wind power industry and the military in Eastern North Carolina, as one NC state senator said, “I think you do need to make choices.” Our public officials have creative thinking and reconciliation ahead of them, and expected of them, to benefit citizens.

The Real Cost of Electricity

What is the cost to make electricity? Depends on who you ask and how they measure dollars and cents. Is it just the cost of fuel? What about the cost to build and run a power facility? Should environmental impacts be a cost (or allow a positive impact on the cost)?

Power Magazine ran a story recently that said it is a “gnarly” and complex issue: “Despite the difficulties, cross-generation cost comparisons are playing a significant role in public decisions at the international, national, and local levels about choices of generating technologies. Advocates for various technologies and businesses with vested interests all claim that they—mirror, mirror on the wall—are the least-cost generating option of all.”

Check out the story here. Good introduction to a tough topic.

Got to be careful on energy sources and numbers. ECC saw a quote recently about one-size-fits-all energy thinking: “While political narcissists may hate or favor one energy source, consumers are best served by a … diversified portfolio [that] will create the best options. Each type of energy can play a constructive role.” That was in a Forbes column.

Now, a worldwide issue…

New Daily Carbon Report

One of the world’s most respected news sources, The Guardian in the UK, is including a new daily report: CO2 in the atmosphere. The measure is made at Hawaii’s Mauna Loa observatory, a benchmark for the world.

The editors believe that figure needs to be front and center in the minds of their readers. The CO2 level in the air reflects people’s use of materials that release the carbon. Things like coal, or fuels in combustion vehicles. The levels of carbon in the atmosphere are growing. The changes in climate account for more heat and bigger storms for the world. (In states that feel the brunt of hurricanes, not good.)

Said The Guardian: “Today, the CO2 level is the highest it has been for several million years. …Worse, billions of tonnes of carbon pollution continues to pour into the air every year and at a rate 10 times faster than for 66m years. ‘Levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have risen so dramatically, and including a measure of that in our daily weather report is symbolic of what human activity is doing to our climate. People need reminding that the climate crisis is no longer a future problem – we need to tackle it now, and every day matters.’”