Buying and Selling Renewable Energy Enables Communities across Europe to Become More Independent and Sustainable

Going to market is an age-old activity when it comes to buying and selling goods – from cash crops to cattle, everything under the sun has been traded in some form or another. Now, you can even take your surplus solar energy to the market, thanks to an innovative solution developed by a team of young Swiss entrepreneurs.

“There is no life on earth without the sun, and it’s there for everyone,” said Anselma Wörner, COO and one of the three cofounders of Exnaton, a Swiss company that develops software for communities trading renewable energy in local neighborhoods.

Wörner was explaining how her company created a smart energy system at the recent International Conference for Utilities, presented by SAP and TAC Events in Munich, Germany. “We have a new generation of prosumers – people who consume and produce their own energy – who are using new connected technologies and renewable power like solar to exchange energy through the grid.”

Sun Powered

Humans have always depended on the sun for light, heat, and food, and its all-encompassing power has influenced cultures and religions around the world. Although advances in technology have decreased our dependence, the importance of solar energy in our efforts to reduce our carbon footprint is a reminder that we still depend on it for survival. That’s why the cofounders picked the name Exnaton for their enterprise. Looking for a word that connects “energy” and “exchange,” they hit upon the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten (pronounced Echnaton) who raised the status of the sun above that of all other gods and created an early monotheism that briefly became a state religion.

The goal of Exnaton is to help integrate prosumers into the grid. Currently, the legal framework is very complex, and there is no clear ROI for them. There are no feed-in tariffs or policy mechanisms designed to accelerate investment in renewable energy technologies by offering long-term contracts to renewable energy producers.

“At the moment, there is no value for the community, and we want to change that,” said Wörner, who is responsible for fundraising, data science, and recruiting at Exnaton. “What most people don’t realize is that renewable energy is not always produced when it’s needed most. So, when it is available, prosumers should be able to sell their energy directly.”

People who own solar panels could actually sell a lot of energy to other households, if only they had the means. Wörner and her team believe it should be as easy to sell to other consumers as it is to sell any other products on the market. “Prosumers are faced with fragmented solutions, complex regulations, and frustrating user experiences. What they need are simple solutions, trusted local providers, and proactive community and user groups,” she explained.

Community Centric

Enter Exnaton’s EnergyCommunity software add-on for SAP for Utilities solutions, which won an SAP Innovation Award in the Partner Paragon category together with Best Practice Consulting (BPC) and is now available on SAP Store. This user-centric extension enables utility companies to empower prosumers to buy and sell energy within their local communities and also track all relevant data.

Here’s how it works. Any prosumers in the community can sell their solar energy to any consumers in the grid. The EnergyCommunity tracks their energy data and informs them exactly where the energy is coming from and how much CO2 it is generating. The utility company can easily bill these energy exchanges with their regular SAP billing system thanks to the integration offered by Exnaton in working with the SAP system integrator BPC. At the same time, the utility company can sell additional hardware installations to members of the community, making it an attractive option for all parties.

“The EnergyCommunity makes it easy to exchange energy within the community. Participating in their local community creates a closer bond between people, and the platform provides a new customer channel for the utility company,” said the technology expert, who has a PhD in Information Systems. “At the end of the day, with Exnaton’s energy sharing software-as-a-service platform, energy suppliers can offer their customers more independence.”

Exnaton is responding to the challenge faced by prosumers who currently have no possibility to sell their extra energy directly on the market and the one faced by utilities companies as they realize they must offer new models as they transition to renewables with a decentralized approach. A number of utility companies are already running the solution in communities across Germany, Austria, Luxemburg, and Switzerland, and the goal is to expand to other European countries where there is a strong regulatory framework. More importantly, the solution enables energy companies to equip their customers for a sustainable future.

Future Focused

Over 733 million people on the planet still don’t have access to affordable, sustainable energy, which is why providing energy is goal seven on the list of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. For Exnaton, goal seven is its core business, but at the same time, it is equally committed to goal 11, developing sustainable cities and communities; goal 12, enabling responsible production and consumption; and goal 13, taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impact.

The good news, according to the recent State of the Energy Union report, is that renewables overtook fossil fuels as the number one power source in the European Union for the first time in 2020. Renewables generate 38% of electricity, compared to 37% for fossil fuels. Also, at least two million people in the EU are already involved in more than 7,700 energy communities, and engagement is rising. Energy communities have also contributed up to 7% of nationally installed capacities of renewables, estimated at 6.3 GW.

For Wörner and the team at Exnaton, producing energy where it is consumed decreases the dependence of the region on imported resources. Energy from the sun is practically limitless, and it more than covers the entire demand of the planet. With advances in technology and solutions like the EnergyCommunity, households and small businesses benefit from electricity powered by the sun, making renewable energy accessible and cost effective. What could be more natural, sensible, or sustainable?


This article was first published on forbes.com.

Vienna prevents renewable energy waste with heat conversion plant

The new site was built by the Hundertwasser waste incineration plant and is now an organic part of the complex

Yesterday, authorities at Wien Energie, Vienna’s public energy provider, announced the launch of a new power-to-heat conversion plant on the Hundertwasser incinerator. The plant is supposed to convert renewable energy into heat for the district heating system and prevent blackouts during the winter.

According to a statement by the energy provider, the new plant will also help strengthen the city’s energy system as a whole and build towards a total gas exit by 2040. This is because it will help prevent energy waste, a persistent issue for renewables.

Wasting less energy

There is one huge problem with renewable energy, which has no scalable and concrete solution – we are talking about energy waste. This is because, for one, renewable energy generation is very weather dependent and, two, peak energy production usually comes around midday, when energy consumption is at its lowest.

This is a problem for every energy provider when working with big renewable capacities and Wien Energie is no exception. This is why, when there is a peak in production, they need to carefully manage the grid to prevent energy overflow and underflow, both of which can lead to problems for consumers, including blackouts.

The power-to-heat plant aims to remedy this issue, by using excess renewable energy to produce heat for district heating. According to an official statement by the company, the plant will work like a massive kettle, boiling water to 155 degrees Celsius.

The plant has two heaters, that are capable of generating 5 megawatts and, as the company puts it, this will happen with minimal loss of efficiency. Additionally, it will make for a more stable energy supply for the citizens of Vienna.

Hundertwasser’s legacy

The Hundertwasser waste incineration plant is a unique energy infrastructure landmark in Vienna. It was built by local architect and eco-activist Friedensreich Hundertwasser in the 1970s after the city council convinced him that incinerating waste was the best and most sustainable option.

Instead of putting it in a landfill, the plant uses the waste to generate district heating. Additionally, it has a distinct and quirky design, making it one of Vienna’s must-see architectural landmarks.

The power-to-heat plant, built in the same location, takes a lot of notes from the original ecologically minded design. For one, Wien Energie managed to construct it in a similar style, by working with the Hundertwasser Foundation.

Furthermore, the building was made using recycled concrete, a process which uses waste material from demolished buildings. Moreover, it has a roof garden with flowerbeds where employees can plant vegetables for their own use.

Solar panel bike lane generates eco-friendly energy in South Korea

SEJONG, South Korea — There is a five-and-a-half mile bike path sitting in the middle of an eight-lane highway, topped with a solar panel that lights up the streets below in South Korea.

But this is no regular bike path. What started as an idea to produce clean energy while simultaneously giving people a place to exercise, South Korea built this eco-friendly cycle lane that connects the cities of Daejeon to Sejong — the administrative capital of South Korea — in 2014.

The 13-foot-wide path set in the middle of a highway is unique in South Korea, where most bicycle paths are built adjacent to pedestrian roads. But what really makes the path stand out is its one-of-a-kind feature — a solar panel-lined roof.

PHOTO: A 5.5-miles-long solar panel bike path sitting in the middle of an eight-lane highway connects Daejeon and Sejong city in South Korea.

With 7,502 solar panels installed at intervals of approximately 30 inches, the paneling covers 3 miles of the 5.5 mile cycling highway and are capable of producing an annual average of 2,200 MWh of eco-friendly electricity that powers many of the streetlights and electronic displays in Sejong. In fact, the solar panels produce an equivalent amount of energy to power approximately 600 households, according to South Korea’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport.

The Korea Western Power Co., Ltd. — the public corporation that constructed the solar panel bike road — is in charge of maintaining the solar panels to keep up the power efficiency.

“Solar panels in public facilities are part of a trend in clean energy,” Kim Geun-ho, a researcher from the Green Energy Institute based in the country, told ABC News. “At the beginning stage, solar power generation was mostly constructed in vast farmland and mountainous areas. It moved on to public facility rooftops, and finally have evolved to play the role of a shelter and power generator at the same time, in this case, a roof on top of a bike road.”

Several other metropolitan governments in South Korea have implemented the bike road with solar panels, but this one particular road in Sejong remains the longest and the only one set in the middle of a highway.

“This is the fastest bike road I can take from my home in Daejeon to my workplace in Sejong,” Park Yoon-soo who commutes to work every day using the solar panel bike road for the last two years, told ABC News. “I have always appreciated the solar panel roofs because they become a good shade under strong sunlight, and a roof when it rains.”

Auto suppliers feel the green squeeze as carmakers get clean

By Nick Carey, Victoria Waldersee and Giulio Piovaccari

TAMWORTH, England (Reuters) – The auto industry’s drive to a greener and cleaner future is a treacherous road for companies in its beleaguered supply chain. Only the strong and the shrewd may survive.

Many auto suppliers, already squeezed by rampant inflation and energy prices, say they have little choice but to shoulder the extra costs of making their components sustainable to meet carmakers’ environmental targets.

“If you don’t, you’re not going to have a business in five or six years supplying major carmakers,” said Shane Kirrane, commercial director at Autins Group, which has plants in Britain, Sweden and Germany that make acoustic and thermal insulation for cars.

All major carmakers have committed to green targets, seeking to purge dirtier materials from their supply chains to satisfy regulators and investors as they transition to electric vehicles (EVs).

BMW, for instance, expects all of its battery and many of its steel and aluminium providers to produce materials made using renewable energy, while Volvo is targeting 25% recyclable plastic in its cars by 2025.

Many suppliers are consequently making large investments to green up their acts, from developing recyclable parts to hooking up their businesses to renewable energy, according to interviews with more than a dozen industry players.

At the same time, many say they have little leeway to raise the prices they charge big automakers, which are themselves laser-focused on costs as they shell out tens of billions of dollars to reinvent themselves for a lower-carbon era.

“We use the term disruptive all the time, but it’s much more than just disruptive,” said Joe McCabe, CEO of researcher AutoForecast Solutions. “We’re going to see a real big shakeout the next five, 10 years in the auto supply chain.”

Philadelphia-based AutoForecast compiles auto industry production estimates and advises suppliers on whether the requests-for-quotes (RFQs) they receive from carmakers are based on realistic assumptions for vehicle production volumes.

“Suppliers are being asked to develop new technologies to support EVs and invest in a greener supply chain with (high) volumes we don’t believe are obtainable based on the actual RFQs,” McCabe added. “But carmakers are also telling suppliers: ‘If you want to be part of this new green revolution, give me the best price possible so I don’t go to your competition’.”

‘A MONUMENTAL TASK’

Carmakers are often reluctant to discuss contractual relationships with suppliers.

Mercedes-Benz, which aims to extensively use recyclable material and “green” steel made using renewable energy in its cars, told Reuters it was fully aware that going to zero emissions was “a monumental task” for suppliers.

It said that it planned to reach this goal collaboratively, including providing training to suppliers or shared research and development.

Volkswagen, targeting a 30% reduction in CO2 emissions for its vehicles including their supply chain, said it has a collaborative relationship with suppliers, citing a joint programme it created to tackle rising energy prices, without providing details.

Going green is costly for even the biggest suppliers, such as American Swiss connector maker TE Connectivity, according to its chief technology officer Ralf Klaedtke. The company, which is worth about $39 billion, launched its own sustainability drive in 2020 and is working on recyclable products with carmakers including Volkswagen, Volvo and BMW.

“For smaller suppliers, the challenge is even more severe,” Klaedtke said. “The suppliers that don’t qualify for sustainability will be ruled out of the procurement process.”

For Britain’s Autins, which had revenue of about 23 million pounds ($26 million) for the fiscal year ending September 2021, one part of the green solution is to shift to 100% renewable energy later this year, according to CEO Gareth Kaminski-Cook, speaking at the company’s plant in Tamworth, central England.

He said this would cost his company several thousands of pounds more per year – the cost of building out infrastructure to connect renewable energy to the grid is passed on to business customers. Eventually, though, those bills will come down.

The publicly-traded company has also been pursuing its own green targets to satisfy shareholders.

Autins, whose customers include Volkswagen and Jaguar Land Rover, has invested about 50,000 pounds in developing a recyclable insulation material that should be ready around the end of 2022, Kaminski-Cook added.

‘KILLED OUR MARGINS’

Plastic and rubber component maker Sigit, with annual revenue of around $200 million, spent 10 million euros in 2019-20 on a research centre in Turin that has developed a recyclable thermoplastic composite bracket 90% lighter than the previous metal part.

CEO Emanuele Buscaglione said supply-chain problems that began during the pandemic plus soaring costs had “killed our margins” and “created the perfect storm” for the industry.

The Swiss-Italian company spent three years developing the bracket and now has its first contract, for vans made by Stellantis, the world’s No. 4 carmaker, Buscaglione added.

“We are trying to concentrate the few resources we have available on innovation,” said the CEO. He added, though, that Sigit’s carmaker customers had been unwilling to pay any more for new, greener products so far, even the luxury brands.

The challenge of passing on added costs to customers is “anything but trivial,” Buscaglione says.

Suppliers are also feeling the strain in Germany, Europe’s biggest car market.

M. Busch, which makes cast-iron parts including brake discs and gearboxes in North-Rhine Westphalia, wants to shift from burning coke to “biocoke” made from organic waste, use renewable energy and replace gas for melting the metal with hydrogen, owner Andreas Guell said.

But the organic waste is hard to find, there is not enough hydrogen fuelling infrastructure to meet his needs while renewable energy is still expensive compared with conventional power, he added.

Guell says carmakers only want to work with suppliers who use green energy, leaving him in a tight spot.

German aluminium supplier Gerd Roeders, the owner of G.A. Roeders, which provides material for Volkswagen and Continental, wants to shift to a hydrogen-and-gas mix from just gas, but says government and carmaker support is needed to build green infrastructure.

“To be innovative, the supplier industry needs money,” Roeders said. “We feel a bit stuck.”

($1 = 1.0004 euros; $1 = 0.8687 pounds)

(Reporting by Nick Carey in Tamworth, Victoria Waldersee in Berlin and Giulio Piovaccari in Milan; Editing by Pravin Char)


California is awash in renewable energy — except when it’s most needed

By 5 p.m., with massive consumer demand straining the grid, officials had turned down more than 3,000 megawatts of solar power energy. Customer demand was soaring, but solar production declined as evening fell, and officials no longer had access to that overabundant solar power from earlier in the day. Nevertheless, officials managed to make it through the day without blackouts by turning to other energy sources and blast-texting residents.

Amazon expands its renewable energy projects with firsts in Brazil, India, and Poland

Amazon is expanding its renewable energy investments with 71 new renewable energy projects around the world, including its first renewable energy project in South America—a solar farm in Brazil—and its first solar farms in India and Poland. Once fully operational, Amazon’s global renewable energy portfolio will generate 50,000 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of clean energy, which is the equivalent amount of electricity needed to power 4.6 million U.S. homes each year.

“We are bringing new wind and solar projects online to power our offices, fulfillment centers, data centers, and stores, which collectively serve millions of customers globally, and we are on a path to reach 100% renewable energy across our entire business by 2025,” said Adam Selipsky, CEO of Amazon Web Services. “Around the world, countries are looking to accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy, and continued investments like ours can help accelerate their journey as we all work together to mitigate the impacts of climate change.”

An illustrated image that represents Amazon's renewable energy efforts with solar panels, and Amazon van getting charged, and a building with a green background. There are two text boxes, One reads Amazon is the world's largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy, and the other one reads as of the end of 2021, Amazon reached 85% renewable energy across its business.

As the largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy globally, Amazon now has a total of 379 renewable energy projects across 21 countries, including 154 wind and solar farms and 225 rooftop solar projects, representing 18.5 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy capacity. By the end of 2021, the company had reached 85% renewable energy across its business.

Amazon continues to successfully enable projects in power grids around the world, including:

  • In the Asia-Pacific region, Amazon is announcing the company’s first three large-scale projects in India. All three are solar projects in Rajasthan, representing 420 megawatts (MW) of clean energy capacity. Amazon is scaling fast in India, and these first investments play a critical role in reducing our carbon emissions in the country. In the Asia-Pacific region, the company now has a total of 57 renewable energy projects.
  • In Europe, Amazon now has 117 renewable energy projects. Amazon is announcing its first rooftop solar projects in France and Austria, and its first solar farm in Poland. Amazon’s investment in its first utility-scale project in Poland is one of the largest corporate solar deals announced to date in the country. With this commitment, Amazon is directly contributing to the Polish government’s goal of increasing renewable energy on its grid. Corporate support of new renewable energy projects like Amazon’s helps open up the market for additional wind and solar farms, and accelerates the decarbonization of the grid.
  • In North America, Amazon is adding 1 GW of clean energy capacity across the Southeastern U.S., including the company’s first two renewable energy projects in Louisiana. The company now has a total of 202 projects across North America.
  • In South America, Amazon is announcing its first renewable energy project, which is a 122 MW solar farm in Brazil. In addition to providing renewable power to Amazon’s operations in the region, this project will also provide economic benefits to the local economy and the region’s biodiversity. The project includes a $380,000 (R$2 million) investment in environmental programs during construction to protect and promote biodiversity. The project is estimated to create 850 jobs during the construction phase, with an additional 30 permanent jobs once the project becomes operational.

To help scale the benefits of investments in the renewable energy sector as it continues to grow, Amazon is also working through the Clean Energy Buyers Institute (CEBI) Beyond the Megawatt initiative to ensure the industry is maximizing the economic, environmental, and social impact of energy procurement.

An illustrated image that represents Amazon's renewable energy efforts with solar panels and a building with a green background. There are two text boxes, One reads Amazon now has a total of 379 renewable energy projects across 21 countries, including 154 wind and solar farms and 225 rooftop solar projects, and the other one reads all of these projects power a variety of Amazon facilities, including corporate offices, fulfillment centers, data centers, and physical stores.

“As a key leader in the CEBA community, Amazon continues to demonstrate that when it commits to a vision, it drives a pace and scale that’s a new bar to follow,” said Miranda Ballentine, CEO of Clean Energy Buyers Association (CEBA) and Clean Energy Buyers Institute (CEBI). “Amazon also continues to be a leader in not only deploying today’s clean energy procurement tools at scale, but also in leading its community of peers and partners in developing tomorrow’s clean energy solutions—whether that’s focusing on ensuring renewables have sustainable supply chains or expanding the impact of clean energy through next generation procurement tools.”

“With its landmark solar projects announced in Poland and France, Amazon has taken crucial steps towards its net-zero pledge, while supporting Europe’s own climate goals,” said Walburga Hemetsberger, CEO of SolarPower Europe, founding partner of the RE-Source Platform. “As Europe faces skyrocketing energy prices, solar and renewable energy deals will strengthen Amazon’s strategic resilience—we hope to see more companies follow Amazon’s lead.”

An image of a Climate Pledge Nasdaq Sign on a building that reads 375+ companies globally. Net-zero carbon by 2040.

Amazon co-founded The Climate Pledge in 2019, committing to reach net-zero carbon by 2040—10 years ahead of the Paris Agreement. The Pledge now has more than 375 signatories, including Best Buy, IBM, Microsoft, PepsiCo, Siemens, Unilever, Verizon, and Visa. Amazon has also ordered 100,000 electric delivery vehicles, the largest order ever of electric delivery vehicles, and has started to roll them out across the U.S. The company is also investing $2 billion in the development of decarbonizing services and solutions through The Climate Pledge Fund.

Learn more about Amazon’s sustainability efforts.

Amid a massive American clean energy shift, grid operators play catch-up • Missouri Independent

For the better part of the past century, the American electric power system evolved around large, mostly fossil fuel power plants delivering electricity to residences, businesses and industry through a network of transmission and distribution wires that collectively came to be called the electric grid.

But as the threat of climate change driven by carbon pollution becomes more dire and as technological advances make wind, solar and battery storage ever cheaper options for powering homes and business, states, corporations and voters are increasingly pushing to aggressively decarbonize the grid.

Power generation resulted in more than 1.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions in 2020, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and accounted for about a quarter of all U.S. carbon emissions. Transportation contributes another 27%, and policies to speed up electric vehicle adoption, including in the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act, rely on the electricity needed to charge all those battery-powered cars being produced cleanly.

Thirty states and Washington, D.C., have active renewable or clean energy requirements, and three other states have voluntary renewable energy goals, per the National Conference of State Legislatures. And major corporations — from Amazon, Target and Microsoft to Boeing and Google — are also increasingly becoming major green power consumers. 

That collective momentum has led to a flood of renewable energy development — thousands of projects, billions of dollars in capital and thousands of jobs — but getting that electricity to customers is more complicated than just building solar panels and wind turbines. 

Millions of American electric customers are in territories managed by entities called regional transmission organizations or independent system operators, which are tasked with managing the flow of electricity across the grid, running electric markets, ensuring reliability and overseeing new interconnections..

And while grid operators say they’re doing their best to manage the renewable transition while ensuring reliability and keeping costs stable, critics contend they’ve been caught flatfooted and are only just now coming to grips with the new demands of a changing power system on their markets and interconnection queues. That’s creating a bottleneck that’s holding up thousands of projects that could help create a cleaner and more resilient grid and tripping up state clean power goals.

Running the grid

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) created standards for regional transmission organizations in a 1999 order, in part to spur better regional grid management and more competitive wholesale electric markets.

There are currently seven regional transmission organizations or independent system operators operating in the United States right now. The biggest, PJM, is one of the largest wholesale electric markets in the world and coordinates the movement of electricity in all or parts of 13 states and Washington D.C., a territory that numbers 65 million people. Roughly two-thirds of American electric customers live in an area where service is managed by a regional transmission organization (RTO) or an independent system operator (ISO), according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

How the electric grid works ( North American Electric Reliability Corporation).

In the West and Southeast, customers are generally served by traditional utilities that are typically vertically integrated (meaning they’re responsible for generating, transmitting and distributing electricity to their customers) who do their own planning and trade power with each other, but not as part of an organized market like in an RTO, said Seth Blumsack, a professor of energy policy and economics at Penn State.

The differences between an RTO and ISO are largely technical, with the FERC setting out specific requirements for RTOs. 

“They functionally do the same thing nowadays,” said Jeff Dennis, managing director and general counsel of Advanced Energy Economy, a trade group that represents more than 100 companies working in energy efficiency, demand response, energy storage, solar, wind, hydro, nuclear, electric vehicles, biofuels and smart grid technologies.

“There are sort of three reasons they matter: markets, transmission and reliability,” said Casey Roberts, a senior attorney with the Sierra Club who focuses on regional transmission organizations. “Those markets and how they’re designed determine what revenue generators earn and how often they run.”

Because they’re charged with managing the grid and ensuring reliability, RTOs and ISOs also oversee new connections for power generators. And across the country, they’ve been buried in the past several years by an avalanche of interconnection requests, mostly from wind and solar and, increasingly, battery storage developers, in part spurred by how cheap those generation sources have become and also as a result of states’ clean energy policies.

“A number of these RTOs have decision systems that were designed for a bygone era of the grid,” Blumsack said. “They were sort of designed when your market participants were transmission owners, big generation owners, utilities. As you have mandates for new technologies and all these new market actors emerging, it’s been hard for some RTOs to integrate them.”

The queue blues

The most conspicuous example of that dynamic has been the interconnection queues, in which thousands of projects, mostly wind and solar, languish while waiting for approval to connect to the grid. There’s been little regional and interregional transmission expansion in the past decade, said John Moore, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Sustainable FERC Project. For example, wind energy is abundant in parts of the Midwest and West, but it needs long-range transmission lines to get it to population centers that comprise the bulk of the electric load.

“With all of those pressures on the grid, it was to some extent predictable but unfortunate that we’re at this point — with a big backlog and delays for renewable projects,” Moore said.

A map of grid operators’ territories (Source: Federal Energy Regulatory Commission).

Developers also in many cases can’t get good information on the costs of that connection and any associated grid upgrades they’ll be required to pay for prior to application, Roberts and other critics say, leading to developers filing for multiple projects just to find the best place to site a single solar array, for example.

“Usually developers don’t start putting steel in the ground until they have the results of their interconnection study,” Roberts said. “Sometimes the interconnection costs can be more than 50% of the project cost.”

Many grid operators have struggled to manage their interconnection queues. For example, the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, or MISO, which encompasses parts or all of 15 states stretching from Minnesota to Louisiana, has hundreds of mostly wind and solar projects in its interconnection queue that amounted to a capacity of more than 118,000 megawatts as of Sept. 19. However, MISO got an interconnection reform plan approved by the FERC earlier this year that is intended to streamline the process.

But nowhere has the problem been more pronounced than within PJM, which is headquartered near Philadelphia.

“They exist in many, many places in the country,” said Dennis of Advanced Energy Economy. “PJM has just been the worst example in recent years.” 

As of early September, PJM had more than 2,500 projects in the queue with a total capacity of more than 225,00 megawatts, according to Ken Seiler, PJM’s vice president of planning. For some perspective, that’s more than the maximum output of all the power generation in the PJM region right now (about 185,000 MW).

“Here’s the crazy thing about the interconnection backlog that PJM finds themselves in,” said Lorig Charkoudian, a Democratic member of the Maryland House of Delegates whose district is just outside Washington. “PJM would tell you that what they do, what they take pride in, is they forecast and they plan. Here we have a situation where you could have absolutely forecast this moment if you wanted to.”

Charkoudian, an economist, points to examples like PJM rules that have since been overhauled but initially penalized renewable energy sources trying to participate in PJM’s capacity market. She also criticized the grid operator’s previous restrictions on battery storage as hindering Maryland and other states with aggressive plans to decarbonize

“You knew this moment was coming, you had a structure in place that was unworkable. 

Forecasting is what you do. Fix it. And fix it 10 years ago,” she said. 

Reforms to the rescue?

PJM and other RTOs say they are.

“The existing planning queue was designed to process larger, centralized generation resources that were far fewer in number,” said Seiler, the PJM vice president of planning. “It was also not designed to weed out the many speculative projects that may not have the financing or other means necessary to bring the project to completion.”

A new interconnection process developed by a PJM task force starting in 2021 has been filed for approval with the FERC and will shift to a “first-ready, first-served basis rather than first come, first-served.” The new framework also includes a “cluster” approach to studying interconnection costs, reducing the number of additional studies required when projects are modified and streamlining interconnections for projects “that do not contribute to the need for network upgrades.”

“Along with the process revisions, PJM studied more projects than all other RTOs combined in 2020 leading to 30,000 MW worth of generation completing the study process and having executed final agreements in hand. Despite this, only 1,500 MW worth of generation has gone commercial in 2022 as developers face additional challenges beyond the interconnection study process,” Seiler said.

For some renewable developers, environmental advocates and state politicians, though, it’s an imperfect fix. For one, PJM is proposing to freeze its queue for two years to work through the backlog, creating delays for projects that haven’t been filed yet. (By comparison, MISO is pushing to cut its interconnection application process to about a year, without any freeze on new requests.) Going forward, PJM envisions processing new interconnection requests within two years.

In comments to the FERC, the Organization of PJM States, which represents state public service commissions in PJM territory, called the reforms a “step in the right direction” and a “considerable improvement to the existing processes which is hindering some states’ ability to achieve their policy goals.”

However, while the group encouraged FERC to approve the plan, it said it was “deeply concerned that, even under PJM’s proposed reforms, a project entering the queue today may not be able to achieve commercial operation until nearly 2030.”

‘A potential roadblock’ 

Aside from the queue problems, critics say capacity markets like PJM’s, intended to ensure there’s enough available electricity to handle spikes in load, are tilted toward fossil fuel generators and allow old, inefficient and polluting power plants to limp along rather than be retired as well as charge electric customers for capacity they don’t need

“In terms of what the role is, RTOs are both critically important for the clean energy transition, but also without reform of their markets a potential roadblock to the clean energy transition,” Dennis said.

RTO markets, Dennis said, were designed 20 to 25 years ago around the generation of the time, primarily coal, gas and nuclear power plants. 

“The resources that we will rely on in the future have different technical and operating characteristics,” he said. “That’s really where we are in a market like PJM. We’re trying to evolve these rules.” 

Seiler, the PJM vice president, said the organization is “committed to a reliable energy transition as cost-effectively and reliably facilitating state decarbonization policies (and other state policies) through our competitive markets, operations and planning processes. 

“This is at the heart of almost everything we do today.”

‘Steps in the right direction’

A map of grid operators’ territories (Source: Federal Energy Regulatory Commission).

For renewable energy developers and advocates though, there are signs that RTOs are working better with states to help them meet their goals. 

MISO recently approved more than $10 billion for 18 transmission projects comprising more than 2,000 miles of transmission line in the upper Midwest, including in Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri and the Dakotas. The plan “represents the most complex transmission study effort in MISO’s history,” the grid operator said, and will provide a host of benefits for the grid.

“Carbon-free and clean energy goals set by MISO member utilities, state and municipal government policies and customer preferences continue to drive growth in wind, solar, battery and hybrid projects,” MISO said. “As the region faces both a changing resource fleet and increased prevalence of extreme weather events, the ability to move electricity from where it is generated to where it is needed most becomes paramount.”

PJM also reached a novel deal with the Board of Public Utilities in New Jersey, which has set an ambitious goal for offshore wind energy development (7,500 megawatts by 2035) that will allow a “first-of-its-kind competitive transmission process” administered by PJM, which is expected to drive down costs of getting that wind-generated electricity to customers, as long as New Jersey handles the bill within its own borders.

“The provision enables a state, or group of states, to propose a project to assist in realizing state public policy requirements as long as the state (or states) agrees to pay all costs of any state-selected build-out,” PJM said in a news release

Then there’s what Dennis, of Advanced Energy Economy, called an “aggressive agenda” by the FERC itself to help smooth the renewable transition for grid operators and developers alike. 

A recent FERC order, for instance, directs RTOs and ISOs to remove barriers to electric market participation for energy storage, a crucial technology to balancing the intermittent nature of wind and solar power.

And two other proposed major rules deal with transmission and interconnection, respectively.

“Who pays for transmission is one of the biggest barriers to getting transmission built,” Dennis said. “FERC is trying to streamline that by determining who the beneficiaries are in a standardized way.” The hope is the change will head off one of the most common objections by states to new transmission — that their residents are paying for it without getting enough benefit, Dennis said. 

The proposed interconnection rule is aimed squarely at expediting the queue backlogs for connecting new electric generation to the grid.

“At the end of 2021, there were more than 1,400 gigawatts of generation and storage waiting in interconnection queues throughout the country. This is more than triple the total volume just five years ago. Projects now face an average timeline of more than three years to get connected to the grid,” FERC said in a June news release.

The main components are: 

  • a “first-ready, first-served” cluster study process in which large interconnection studies encompassing multiple generating facilities rather than individual ones,
  • imposing firm deadlines and penalties if transmission providers fail to complete studies on time,
  • allowing multiple generators to share a single interconnection request and co-locate on a shared site.
  • better modeling for how “non-synchronous” generating facilities like wind, solar and storage will actually perform when they connect to the grid. 

“They’re definitely both steps in the right direction,” said Roberts, the Sierra Club attorney. “It’s really important for FERC to set a baseline for transmission and interconnection that will work better for consumers. “

How Bitcoin Mining Can Mitigate Renewable Energy Waste | Bitcoinist.com

Bitcoin miners, being the unique power consumers they are, can be a possible solution to the problem of renewable energy waste.

Bitcoin Mining Can Be Utilized To Use Up Excess Power Produced By Renewables

As per the latest weekly report from Arcane Research, the flexibility of BTC miners means they can help mitigate wastage produced due to the nature of renewable energy resources.

Wind and solar power sources don’t generate energy at a constant rate, but at a variable one. This variation isn’t something we can control, so these sources inevitably end up generating amounts different from the grid’s needs.

In times when these generators produce excess energy, the power prices in the market can crash to very low values, or even sometimes negative rates.

Both wind and solar have observed some sharp growth in recent years, and according to the report, they are expected to keep growing rapidly. Here is a chart that shows the trend in the global capacities of these sources so far, and how they will likely do in the future:

Solar And Wind Renewable Sources

Looks like solar will grow much more faster than wind in the coming years | Source: Arcane Research's The Weekly Update - Week 36, 2022

The report notes that there are a couple of reasons why Bitcoin mining could possibly mitigate the frequency of negative prices in power grids with solar and wind sources.

First, mining is location agnostic, meaning miners can setup their facilities pretty much anywhere around the world without any issues, as long as the location has power available.

And second, mining machines can be switched on and off as and when miners like, without causing any problems.

These factors mean that miners can shift their farms close to renewable sources, and only take power when there is excess energy available. In all other times, the generator will deliver it straight to the grid.

Other than these, there are also some other reasons that make mining suitable for this purpose. For example, the portability associated with mining rigs, and the fact that their energy intake can be varied notch by notch, makes it possible for miners to use only exactly as much excess energy as is available.

The report explains that as solar and wind continue to grow, the excess energy produced by them will also become more. If left unmitigated, this problem can threaten renewable energy economics and limit the sector’s growth. It would appear that Bitcoin mining can perhaps help curtail this issue.

BTC Price

At the time of writing, Bitcoin’s price floats around $20.2k, up 7% in the past week.

Bitcoin Price Chart

The value of BTC has plunged down | Source: BTCUSD on TradingView
Featured image from Dmitry Demidko on Unsplash.com, charts from TradingView.com, Arcane Research

Fighting for Renewable Energy | 2022 | What Would You Fight For? | University of Notre Dame

Lucas Barreto remembers when the eye of Hurricane Maria passed over his home in Puerto Rico in 2017. During the moments of reprieve from 155-mile-per-hour winds and pelting rain, he ran outside to empty the gutters, hoping to spare his home even more flooding. He tied down the trees with ropes and used extension cords to secure the doors. He and his father wedged towels and T-shirts beneath the door jambs to stem the tide of water from the house, but to no avail. A river ran through the home as the family hurried to lift and save what they could. 

Once the storm passed, the real trouble began.

“After the hurricane, I went outside and I saw all the poles on the ground, trees on the ground,” Barreto recounts. “I think it was a week after the hurricane that I could get out of my neighborhood because there were trees that were blocking the way, electric cables, everything really you could imagine.” 

The island of Puerto Rico had suffered another hurricane, Irma, a Category 5 storm, just weeks before Category 4 Maria. What hadn’t been destroyed by Irma skirting the coast came under direct fire from Maria. Winds, rain and floods decimated homes, buildings, roads and Puerto Rico’s delicate infrastructure system. Power and running water were halted. Phones were dead. Roads were unnavigable. Barreto recalls waking up early to wait in hours-long lines for water and gasoline for generators. This went on for days, weeks and months.

“This catastrophe definitely confirmed what I wanted to study, which is renewable energy, in order to create independence from the grid here in Puerto Rico.” —Lucas Barreto

“We had no running water for about three months, no electricity for six months,” he sums in his head.

Still, Barreto and his family count themselves lucky. They were safe, while the storm and its aftermath took the lives of thousands of their neighbors. Their home sustained only minor damage, so they were able to serve as a refuge for friends and family who were less fortunate. Some homes, even today, five years after the hurricanes, are still covered by the blue tarps handed out by the government in 2017. Energy is still unstable on the island, and power outages are regular. 

“This catastrophe definitely confirmed what I wanted to study, which is renewable energy, in order to create independence from the grid here in Puerto Rico,” Barreto says.

In 2020, Barreto made his way to Notre Dame to study mechanical engineering. He discovered ND Energy, a center within Notre Dame Research dedicated to sustainable energy and which offers a minor in energy studies.  

Last spring, Barreto took a seminar with ND Energy and the College of Engineering titled “Puerto Rico: Road Map to a Renewable Future,” alongside 11 other undergraduates from a variety of disciplines – from engineering to sociology to economics to architecture. The instructors, Ginger Sigmon and Anne Berges Pillai, asked the students to holistically consider the challenges and benefits of sustainable energy in Puerto Rico and beyond.

“There is no magic wand, no single technical solution for the energy conundrum,” says Pillai. “As future leaders, we want our students to lead with their hearts as well as with their minds. Being in the homes of those without power, electrical or financial, exemplifies the need for energy justice better than any book or lecture.”

To help provide context to some of those uniquely Puerto Rican challenges, Pillai invited Yamil Colón, a Puerto Rico native and an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, to teach portions of the course.

“My role really is to provide students with a broader sort of cultural, historical background,” Colón explains. “It’s like, ‘Look, these are the opinions on the island, this is what you might encounter, this is why some of these things can be a little bit difficult to sort of wrap our heads around because of the history and the relationship between the U.S. and Puerto Rico, the local politics, the bankruptcy.’ There’s a lot of moving pieces and so I try to give the students that background.”

Colón recalls the days around Hurricanes Irma and Maria as the most difficult of his life. While he was safely in the United States, both his family and his wife’s family were in Puerto Rico. For days, they heard no word from them as they watched videos of the catastrophe unfolding on the news. Finally, Colón’s parents were able to find enough cell service to place a 30-second phone call to confirm they were OK. They too went five months without power. No refrigerator. No running water.

So while Colón offers pertinent cultural, historical, geographical and political context, along with his expertise in molecular modeling and energy storage, he also brings genuine concern and hope.

Part of that hope stems from the impressive work of community organizations like Casa Pueblo, a nonprofit environmental justice organization in mountainous Adjuntas, Puerto Rico. For decades Casa Pueblo has led a grassroots push toward sustainable energy and has successfully rallied community support. The group started experimenting with solar energy in 1999 and became completely energy independent in 2017, just months before the hurricanes. In the wake of the destruction, while the rest of Adjuntas remained dark for almost a year, Casa Pueblo was able to serve as an energy oasis and help community members in need, says Arturo Massol-Deyá, the executive director of Casa Pueblo.

“What we’re promoting is a transformation of our energy landscape. Energy security for everyone.” —Arturo Massol-Deyá

“We were able to reopen our doors the day after the hurricane, and we immediately became an energy oasis for the community. People were coming in and out to plug in their equipment, their respiratory machines,” says Massol-Deyá. “We decided to upgrade our energy response to get involved directly at homes to secure their medical equipment, to power a dialysis equipment, respiratory machines and fridges for insulin and medicines. Over 100 homes are now running like Casa Pueblo.”

Their use of solar energy, along with their educational and advocacy efforts, has been a powerful testimony that has helped garner community support. Partnering with businesses, communities, academia and volunteers, the group has installed solar energy systems for homes, critical infrastructure, and businesses there so they are no longer reliant on traditional, fragile infrastructure. Together, they aim to become the first solar town in the world. 

“What we’re promoting is a transformation of our energy landscape. Energy security for everyone,” Massol-Deyá says. “This is about climate adaptation, and this is why we’re so proud and happy to…build this relationship with ND energy.

This March, Casa Pueblo and the Notre Dame students, along with the Let’s Share the Sun Foundation, co-founded by Bill Jordan ’85, and a team from Wood Mackenzie, a Verisk Business, led by Luke Lewandowski ’00, joined together to install 60 solar panels on 10 homes for local families with medical needs dependent on energy.    

A sobering reality Barreto and the students quickly discovered is that in the absence of power, people’s lives are at stake. On the ground, he and his classmates helped one of those vulnerable individuals by spearheading a solar energy solution on his home, making it resilient to power outages.

“The house we worked on is actually a house where there’s a family member who’s bedridden, and he needs constant electricity to keep him alive. And I spoke with the family members and their electricity went out two or three times a week, sometimes an hour each time,” he says. “Each time that happened, one of the family members had to run, get a power generator from the neighbor and come back.

“They were stressed. They couldn’t live in peace,” he says.

While Barreto had formerly interned with a solar panel company, this was his first time installing a system. The face-to-face contact with recipients left an impression. This summer, Barreto interned with Let’s Share the Sun and its parent company, Jordan Energy and Food Enterprises. There he was responsible for collaborating with Casa Pueblo on a new project: converting a community of nearly 30 homes to 100 percent solar energy. He also worked with local entities to raise funds to install solar panels on a domestic abuse shelter. 

“When considering the renewable energy field, every little step counts. Even if it’s installing one house, it might be just one house, that’s not that much energy. But then the neighbor notices that house, and then he says, ‘Oh, you’re not paying for energy? You have electricity, while I’m out here, not connected to the grid, and the power goes out twice, three times a week?’ And the word keeps moving around.”

While Puerto Rico provides a compelling example of energy issues, Colón insists the problem spans far beyond the island. It is, in his opinion, “the biggest threat to humanity.” From climate change to water scarcity to pollution to sustainable energy, it’s all interconnected, he says. And that’s something he hopes the students learn from this course. By reckoning not only with the science and engineering of solar energy, but also the economics, the politics and the community involvement, he hopes the students are better equipped to tackle issues of this complexity and magnitude in the future. 

“Our goal as professors here is to produce students who are well versed in all of these aspects, to come up with solutions and understand, then, what would it take to have something that is robust that works for the community,” he says. “[This] is very much within the Catholic identity of Notre Dame both in the aspect of going there and helping communities, but also the education that we’re giving the students. By giving this community-based learning that they can take with them as part of their identity and how we shape the future professions.”