Renewables

Wednesday, 09/23/2020

There’s no doubt about it: California’s decade-long efforts to expand the use of solar, wind, and other renewable energy and improve energy efficiency have enabled the state to significantly reduce its consumption of natural gas for power generation. But the Golden State’s rapid shift to a greener, lower-carbon electricity sector — and its push to shut down gas-fired power plants — has come at a cost, namely an increased risk of rolling blackouts, especially during extended heat waves in the West when neighboring states have less “surplus” electricity to send California’s way. The main problem is that while solar facilities provide a big share of the state’s midday power needs, there’s sometimes barely enough capacity from gas plants and other conventional generation sources to take up the slack when the sun sinks in the late afternoon and early evening. Today, we discuss recent developments on the power front in the most populous state, and what they mean for natural gas consumption there.

Monday, 08/17/2020

The U.S. power sector’s shift to natural gas over the past few years has been a boon to gas producers across the Lower 48, especially in the Northeast. Scores of new gas-fired power plants have been built there during the Shale Era, and a number of coal-fired, oil-fired, and nuclear plants have been taken offline. New England is a case in point; gas-fired power now accounts for about half of the installed generating capacity in the six-state region (Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine) — three times what it was 20 years ago. But New Englanders have a love-hate relationship with natural gas, and with renewables and energy storage on the rise, gas’s role in the land of the Red Sox, hard-to-understand accents, and lobsta’ rolls may well have peaked. Today, we discuss recent developments on the natural gas and power generation fronts in the northeastern corner of the U.S.

Monday, 07/06/2020

They’re generally small in size, but renewable diesel refineries are popping up in many parts of the U.S., incentivized by government programs aimed at reducing carbon emissions and very gradually weaning Americans — and Canadians — from crude oil-based diesel fuel. Recently, HollyFrontier Corp. announced that it will be converting its decades-old Cheyenne, WY, refinery into a renewable diesel facility. While the news of another entrant into the renewable diesel market is not surprising, the complete shutdown and transformation of an existing refinery for this purpose marks only the second time this has occurred in the U.S. Today, we discuss HollyFrontier’s plans and provide an update on renewable diesel supply and demand dynamics.

Wednesday, 07/01/2020

Solar photovoltaic projects accounted for an impressive 40% of all the new electric generating capacity installed in the U.S. in 2019 — the third time since 2015 that solar additions outpaced installations of natural-gas capacity. And the early 2020s are shaping up as another good period for solar, especially in states that offer both intense sun and the broad expanses of land required for large-scale solar projects. Texas is a case in point; some 8,000 megawatts (MW) of new solar capacity is expected to be added there in the 2020-22 period. Solar power, like wind power before it, has come to be so prolific in the Lone Star State that you’d think it would be having a significant impact on how much gas-fired generation is needed day to day, right? Today, we discuss the increasing role of solar generation in the second-largest state and its impact on the demand for traditional power plant fuels.

Thursday, 12/05/2019

Production of alternative, non-petroleum-based fuel continues to be a hot topic around the globe as government policies have incentivized or even mandated these products with the aim of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In the U.S., we’ve seen waves of ethanol and biodiesel enter the fuel supply chain, but the latest commodity that has piqued industry interest is renewable diesel, whose chemical characteristics make it a particularly desirable replacement for conventional distillate. Today, we provide an overview of the renewable diesel market, the legislative programs in North America that are incentivizing its production, and the projects currently on the books to produce it.

Wednesday, 09/27/2017

Renewable and hydroelectric generation has chomped away at natural gas market share of total power generation along the West Coast this year. The latest electric generation data from the Energy Information Administration shows power sourced from renewables (not including hydro) in California, Oregon and Washington combined in April 2017 through July 2017 edged up about 1% year-on-year, while hydroelectric generation averaged 23% higher year-on-year. At the same time, natural gas-fired generation fell 16% year-on-year. The reduced gas-fired generation demand, along with reduced gas storage capacity in the West, has displaced natural gas from the region and disrupted recent gas flow patterns. These shifts provide a glimpse of what gas flows and pricing dynamics could look like as more renewable capacity is added. In today’s blog, we analyze the effects of electric generation trends on regional gas flows.

Monday, 12/12/2016

The Western states continue to ramp up their renewable energy mandates—California and Oregon, for instance, plan to get at least 50% of their electricity from renewable sources, and Colorado has set a 30% requirement. Ironically, this renewable energy trend puts a spotlight on natural gas, whose at-the-ready supply will be needed to fuel the West’s increasing number of gas-fired power plants at a moment’s notice to offset the up-and-down output of solar facilities and wind farms. One way to help ensure natural gas availability is have gas storage capacity close at hand. Today we look at ongoing efforts to add tens of billions of cubic feet of natural gas storage in the Western U.S., primarily to help ensure the fueling of nearby gas-fired power plants that back up variable-output solar and wind.

Thursday, 11/17/2016

Over the past few weeks, publicly traded independent refining companies reported their latest quarterly results, and nearly all lamented on a common theme: the cost of Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs) is out of control. However, the financial burden is not felt equally across the industry, as companies with integrated marketing operations (refining, blending and retailing) don’t face the same RINs-cost albatross as merchant refiners who don’t have retail operations. Today we review the escalating RIN costs that obligated parties have endured this year and explain how the degree of financial pain depends on the level of refiners’ downstream integration.

Sunday, 08/07/2016

Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs) have grabbed the attention of refiners this spring and summer, and for good reason. The price of RINs –– ethanol credits used by refineries to prove compliance with the federal Renewable Fuel Standard –– have soared, and the credits are having an outsized negative effect on some refiners’ costs and profitability. Part of the RIN price spike can be attributed to concerns that there may not be enough to go around this year, and that the situation in 2017 may be far worse. But the rocketing cost of the credits is also raising questions about whether the largely unregulated and opaque RINs market is being manipulated or even cornered by those hoping for a quick, Powerball-size profit. Today, we continue our review of the RINs market with a look at which types of refiners are hit hardest by high RIN prices, and at whether we might be heading off a RIN-availability cliff.

Monday, 07/25/2016

The rising cost of Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs) –– ethanol credits used by refineries to prove compliance with the federal Renewable Fuel Standard –– is putting added financial pressure on the refining sector, which already is squeezed by too-high inventories and thin crack spreads. In fact, for some refiners RIN expenditures may soon be their biggest single operating cost category. (Yes, you read that right.) The cost of ethanol credits is being driven up to record levels by several factors, chief among them the concern there may not be enough to go around this year and next. And things may only get worse from there. In today’s blog, we begin a two-part examination of the 2016-17 market for RINs, a regulatory must-do that rankles and vexes most refiners and gasoline importers.

Sunday, 07/24/2016

After averaging more than a nickel below Henry Hub all this year, the California Border natural gas price spiked to 66 cents/MMbtu above Henry on Friday.  This kind of price volatility is no surprise to anyone following the radical shifts in California energy markets, starting five years ago when the state legislature enacted its 33%-by-2020 renewable portfolio standard (RPS) law.  By mid-2015, more than 14,000 MW of new solar and wind power had pulled down gas demand in California to the point that natural gas prices at the SoCal Border were averaging a negative basis to Henry Hub.  Still not satisfied, last year California legislators voted to establish a 50% renewables target for 2030.  On top of it all, the West Coast was coming up on a La Niña year that would bring more rain –– and hydroelectric generation –– to the Pacific Northwest and eventually into California. With all that renewable power (solar, wind and hydro), California seemed headed for an unprecedented period of low gas prices, but it did not turn out to be so simple.  In today’s blog, we continue our look at California’s power and gas markets with the events and drivers that shaped late 2015 and the first six-plus months of 2016, and consider what’s to come. 

Wednesday, 07/20/2016

California energy markets look quite a bit different today than they did five years ago when the state enacted a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) law that requires every utility and other electricity retailer to serve 33% of their load with renewable energy by 2020. Since then, California has seen huge changes in its energy balances – it shut down the nuclear generating plants at San Onofre, regulators expedited the build-out of new transmission lines to get more wind and solar power into the market, the state implemented a carbon cap-and-trade program, the legislature increased the RPS target to 50%, and SoCal Gas’s Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility sprung a leak.  Today, we look at the changes in California’s energy markets since 2011, and what they mean for future developments in a state far out front in the adoption of renewables and environmental regulation.

Thursday, 05/26/2016

With storage inventories soaring to record-high levels and production remaining relatively flat, the U.S. natural gas market is in dire need of record demand this summer to balance storage. All eyes are on power generation to soak up the gas storage surplus. Low gas prices and increased gas-fired generating capacity makes natural gas the go-to generation fuel this year.  However, in the largest summer demand market – Texas – natural gas is facing increasing competition from wind. Wind power still provides a much smaller share of Texas’s power than natural gas, but the addition of several big wind farms in 2015 gives wind a stronger footing in the Texas market this year. Today we take a closer look at the potential impact of growing wind generating capacity on natural gas demand, particularly in Texas.

Wednesday, 03/20/2013

When we described the quirky workings of the US renewable fuels mandates back in July and August of 2012 the topic was merely brain food for commodity market theorists and sleep deprived gasoline analysts. This month the market for big brother sounding “Renewable Identification Numbers” (RINS) - credited to refiners when they add ethanol to gasoline blends - is suddenly the hottest thing since sliced bread. The price of 2013 RINS shot from a few cnts/gal in January 2013 to an astronomical $1/gal on March 8, 2013. Earlier this week they were trading in the stratosphere, at about $0.70/gal. Today we look at what lies behind the current RIN furor.

Thursday, 08/09/2012

A couple of weeks back in “A Market of Contradictions: Ethanol Mandates, Motor Gasoline and the Blend Wall” we looked at how US refiners are on the hook to blend more and more ethanol into a diminishing pool of gasoline (the blend wall) under Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) legislation. Ethanol producers are losing 35 cnts/gal after the hottest July ever fried the corn harvest. Sinking ethanol production may not cover refiner’s needs. In response, refiners are turning to an arcane workaround called Renewable Identification Numbers (RINS). Today we'll peel back the red tape to see what is really going on.

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