The launch of this Energy News Week in Review could not be more timely as the United States confronts devastating impacts from winter storm weather that some experts say are another manifestation of climate change. In addition to looking at the effects of the winter storm, we’ll highlight the latest global news about major corporations, clean-tech innovators, and governments as they ramp up efforts to achieve lower or no carbon emissions.
Winter Storm Shows Vulnerability of Power Supply
The winter storm has shown weaknesses in the electricity supply grid that may require more stringent regulation of grid operators.
The winter storm and freezing temperatures that blanketed Southern and Central states in the U.S. beginning on February 13 knocked out power supplies in Texas. This included the wind-generated power that provides a significant share of the state’s electricity. Millions were left without heat or light, raising questions about many components of the energy market, including the state’s grid operations. Rolling blackouts were implemented to conserve electricity for essential services, including police, hospitals, and fire stations.
At the same time, the extreme weather froze natural gas pipelines, reducing the available supply that could be delivered even as demand peaked and led to a major increase in the price of natural gas futures. The failure of all power sources led to Texas’s blackouts.
U.S. DOE Funding $100 Million for Clean Energy Technology
The U.S. Department of Energy is encouraging clean-tech innovators to apply for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy’s (ARPA-E) OPEN 2021 funding opportunity. The OPEN 2021 funding opportunity will provide up to $100 million to assist in the research and development of “disruptive clean energy technologies to address the climate crisis,” the DOE said.
The ARPA-E funding is part of the billions that will be made available this year for research and development into technologies that will advance the Biden administration’s goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.
President Joe Biden believes that clean energy can boost the economy and the manufacturing sector by creating good-quality, unionized jobs while at the same time tackling climate change and improving infrastructure.
IBM Pledges Net-Zero Emissions by 2030
IBM announced on February 16 that its business operations will achieve net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030 in the 175 countries where it has facilities.
It expects to do so through a three-pronged approach:
- Cutting GHG emissions by 65% by 2025 relative to 2010 emissions
- Using renewable energy for 75% of its electricity supply by 2025 and 90% of its supply by 2030
- Removing any remaining emissions by means of technologies like carbon capture
IBM’s Chief Sustainability Officer, Wayne S. Balta, says that the company’s drive to reduce its carbon footprint is both good for the environment and for the company.
IBM reported reducing operational CO2 emissions by 11% in 2019 relative to its emissions of 2018.
Sony Joins Open Source Renewable Energy Project
LF Energy, a nonprofit that focuses on open source digital solutions for the power sector, is partnering with Sony Computer Science Laboratories, Inc. (Sony CSL) to launch a microgrid platform that will enable individuals in remote communities to distribute and share electricity they produce without having to rely on a major utility provider’s network.
The peer-to-peer microgrid, known as Hyphae, will rely on Sony CSL’s Autonomous Power Interchange System (APIS).
The project, which was announced on February 16, will seek to extend APIS’s current capabilities for distributing power over DC grids to make these grids interoperable with AC grids. The peer-to-peer Hyphae grid will enable homes and buildings to connect to energy storage devices, such as PV and EV batteries.
Microgrids are expected to increase the resiliency of the electricity supply for communities. The grids also allow for accurate billing by suppliers and are expected to reduce costs and waste.
Rio Tinto Explores Low-Carbon Steel Feedstock
The U.K.-Australian mining group Rio Tinto announced plans this month to explore the production of low-carbon steel feedstock by processing iron ore pellets with green hydrogen.
It has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the engineering firm Paul Wurth S.A. and with steelmaker SHS-Stahl-Holding-Saar GmbH & Co. KGaA (SHS) to explore the viability of transforming iron ore pellets into low-carbon hot briquetted iron (HBI), a low-carbon steel feedstock, using green hydrogen generated from hydro-electricity in Canada.
Rio Tinto says the process has the potential to considerably reduce the carbon emissions produced in the steelmaking process. SHS, a German steelmaker, wants to reduce emissions from blast furnaces when making steel by using renewable energy and hydrogen.
Rio Tinto announced in December 2020 that it would spend $10 million over a two-year period on low-carbon steelmaking projects in its effort to fight climate change.
British Airways To Use Sustainable Fuel
In keeping with plans to invest $400 million in sustainable aviation fuel over the next 20 years, British Airways’ parent company IAG is investing in a plant in the U.S. to produce the substitute for fossil fuels.
The plant will supply the airline with sustainable aviation fuel for its flights beginning in 2022, as the airline aims to become carbon neutral by 2050.
Even though the number of flights continues to be low worldwide due to COVID-19, airlines are under increasing pressure to cut emissions. Sustainable aviation fuel can cut as much as 70% of emissions.
While the sustainable fuel can be used to substitute up to 50% of fossil fuels in an airplane’s fuel tank, so far demonstration flights have used considerably smaller proportions of sustainable aviation fuel in the mix.
U.K. Government Showcases Homes Running on Hydrogen
The U.K. government is establishing two model homes in the northeast of England that will use hydrogen for heating and cooking.
The homes are expected to be completed by April and form part of the government’s strategy to create hydrogen neighborhoods by the end of the decade, in keeping with its desire to make the U.K. net zero in carbon emissions by 2050.
The homes will “use 100% hydrogen for heating and cooking in appliances including boilers, hobs, cookers and fires,” drawing the fuel from tanks placed on-site at the houses.
The homes will not be occupied but will be open for the public to visit to see the possibilities for using hydrogen as a substitute for natural gas in the home.
The U.K. Energy Minister said, “While these new houses in Gateshead will look like any other, they will showcase how low carbon hydrogen can transform the way we power our homes.”
BP and Chevron Back Geothermal
BP Ventures and Chevron Technology Ventures, the investment arms of the two oil giants, have participated in a $40 million funding round by Canadian geothermal company Eavor Technologies.
On February 16, Eavor Technologies announced the funding will assist in commercializing its proprietary technology. “The involvement of companies such as BP and Chevron represent a fantastic endorsement of our technology, the progress we have made to date and the promise for its global scalability,” Eavor president and CEO John Redfern said.
The company is hoping to power 10 million homes by 2030. Eavor’s technology is also expected to provide storage for geothermal energy and eliminate the problem of drops in service common to other forms of renewable energy.
Eavor uses a closed-loop system that eliminates the need for energy-consuming pumps.
BMW Announces Partnership for Solar-Produced Aluminum
BMW announced plans earlier this month to source “green aluminum” from the UAE company Emirates Global Aluminum (EGA) as it seeks to reduce its carbon footprint by 2.5 million tons of CO2 over the next 10 years.
BMW chose the UAE company as the supplier because it has the reputation of being the first commercial producer of aluminum to use solar electricity. EGA uses solar power from a desert solar park south of Dubai.
The deal with EGA will meet half of the needs of BMW’s plant in Landshut, Germany.
BMW says producing the aluminum for cars “is highly energy-intensive,” and it will use the green aluminum to manufacture body and drive train components.
Opinion writer: Amy Phillips
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