Renewables

Everyone in Texas remembers the infamous Winter Storm Uri of three years ago. What started out as a simple cold snap for many quickly turned into something far more serious: the biggest power outage in state history, with billions of dollars in property damage and hundreds of lives lost. Since then, the expected arrival of frigid temperatures has been met with some trepidation, but the critical failures of February 2021 have so far been avoided in subsequent storms. In today’s RBN blog, we look at the steps the state has taken in recent years to weatherize its power grid, show why January’s cold snap turned out to be no big deal, and explain why renewables are playing an increasingly important role in grid reliability during extreme weather conditions. 

Think energy markets are getting back to normal? After all, prices have been relatively stable, production is growing at a healthy rate, and infrastructure bottlenecks are front and center again. Just like the good ol’ days, right? Absolutely not. It’s a whole new energy world out there, with unexpected twists and turns around every corner — everything from regional hostilities, renewables subsidies, disruptions at shipping pinch points, pipeline capacity shortfalls and all sorts of other quirky variables. There’s just no way to predict what is going to happen next, right? Nah. All we need to do is stick our collective RBN necks out one more time, peer into our crystal ball, and see what 2024 has in store for us. 

We’ve spent a lot of time this year looking at the global move to decarbonize and explaining why there isn’t going to be a straight line leading directly to abundant carbon-free power and a net-zero world. That might be the way a lot of people would like to see it go, but that’s not the reality we’re now facing. All sorts of obstacles have popped up, indicating that the energy industry’s trilemma of availability, reliability and affordability not only clash with each other on occasion, they can also conflict with economic and environmental priorities. Nowhere is that more evident than in the U.S., where small-scale battles over the clean-energy transition are playing out all over the map. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss highlights from our newly released Drill Down Report on the ways the nation’s clean-energy push is playing out at the state level. 

If it seems like the push for decarbonization has suddenly picked up the pace lately, Michigan provides proof. Home to the Big 3 automakers and for many the symbolic heart of U.S. manufacturing, its efforts to move away from fossil fuels have long been met with skepticism and resistance. But changing attitudes about climate change and renewable power — and full Democratic control of the state government for the first time in 40 years — have led to a swift about-face in the state’s energy policy. In today’s RBN blog, we examine Michigan’s plans to accelerate its transition away from coal-fired power and the long-term challenges that come with it. 

It’s been a rough few weeks for the offshore wind industry, highlighted by Ørsted’s decision to cancel two high-profile projects in the Northeast: Ocean Wind 1 and Ocean Wind 2. The industry continues to be plagued by a host of problems around inflation, the supply chain and permitting, leading some developers to write-down losses and question whether their projects remain economically viable. But it hasn’t all been bad news, as other projects have been able to move forward and hit major milestones. In today’s RBN blog, we look at the recent cancellations, some key projects that have been approved or are advancing, and what we’ll be watching for over the next several months. 

Every state has its unique set of advantages and challenges, but very few face the number of contrasts that makes New York and its ambitious decarbonization goals so interesting. The Empire State ranks fourth in population (behind California, Texas and Florida) and is home to the biggest city in the country, yet most of the state would be considered rural. It has the nation's third-largest economy, but because its key industries — including financial and business services — are not energy-intensive, and many in the New York City area use mass transit, its per-capita energy use is lower than all but two states (Hawaii and Rhode Island). And while the state gets about 30% of its power from renewable sources (most of it large-scale hydropower), solar and wind generation are still very limited there. In today’s RBN blog, we look at how the state’s plans to ramp up renewable generation — which have long been plagued by problems with incentives, permitting and project cancellations — are running headlong into the difficulties of adding so many resources in a short period of time.  

Plans to greatly expand the production of low-carbon energy and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions can be found just about everywhere, from national and international policy discussions to debates at the state and local levels. Given the potential for dramatic economic, social, and geopolitical impacts over the coming decades, it’s no surprise that top-down mandates for a transition to a more renewables-centric energy mix and away from fossil fuels can stir up concern over the pace, scale, and ultimate effectiveness of such a massive undertaking. In some places, like California, critical voices are largely drowned out. In other spots, apprehension may fester just below the surface. But in a state like Texas that identifies so closely with the energy industry, the conversation is right out in the open. In today’s RBN blog, we look at how that debate is playing out in Texas, where renewable energy is booming in a state known for fossil fuels. 

It makes perfect sense, really. If you’re planning to build a large, low-carbon ammonia production facility that’s targeting the export market, why not site it alongside the Gulf Coast’s leading deepwater ammonia terminal? That helps to explain why INPEX Corp., LSB Industries, Air Liquide and Vopak Moda Houston — the last a joint venture of Royal Vopak and Moda Midstream that recently developed the ammonia terminal — are collaborating on the development of a planned 1.1 million ton per annum (1.1 MMtpa) clean ammonia production plant along the Houston Ship Channel. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the proposed production facility, the markets its clean ammonia would serve, and the benefits of building the project at an existing terminal. 

Clean ammonia, which is produced by reacting clean hydrogen with nitrogen and capturing and sequestering the resulting carbon dioxide (CO2), is gaining momentum. In just the past few months, several more new clean ammonia production projects have been proposed along the U.S. Gulf Coast, many of them made possible by commitments from Japanese and South Korean companies that see the low-carbon fuel as an important part of the Far East’s future energy mix. Taken as a group, the dozen-plus projects now under development have the potential to produce tens of millions of tons of clean ammonia annually, and to create yet another massive energy-export market for U.S. producers. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the new projects moving forward — and one being put on hold — and what’s driving the clean ammonia market.

The U.S.’s effort to prioritize low-carbon energy entails some bumps and bruises along the way, an indication that the energy industry’s trilemma of availability, reliability and affordability can conflict with today’s economic realities and environmental priorities, even in a state like California with abundant financial and clean-energy resources and a commitment to decarbonization. In today’s RBN blog, we look at the state’s lofty goals to phase out fossil fuels, why it has been forced to put its transition away from natural gas and nuclear power on hold, and some of the biggest challenges ahead for the Golden State.

It’s no secret that the past several months have been challenging for the wind power industry, especially when it comes to offshore projects. Major developers have sought to renegotiate power-purchase agreements (PPAs) signed years ago, delayed work on some projects, and walked away from others, despite severe financial repercussions in some cases. On top of all that, only one of three offshore tracts available in the U.S.’s first Gulf of Mexico lease auction for wind power attracted any bids. It all amounts to a major setback in the Biden administration’s goal for the nation’s electricity to be 100% carbon-free by 2035. In today’s RBN blog, we look at the significant challenges being faced by wind power developers, what they mean for the projects currently under development, and some changes that could eventually help bring more of the renewable power online.

Clean hydrogen’s supporters often tout its growth potential, boosted in no small way by the billions of dollars in federal subsidies that will soon go toward supporting the buildout of an extensive series of regional hubs across the U.S. Clean hydrogen has its share of detractors, too, who question how much of a fixture it can become in the U.S. energy mix and wonder about its reliance on all those federal subsidies. But there’s one thing just about everyone seems to agree on — nobody likes the seemingly ubiquitous hydrogen color scheme, with arguments that it is too simplistic, has become too politicized, and puts the industry’s focus on the wrong things. In today’s RBN blog, we look at the limitations of the hydrogen color scheme, the risks of relying on it too extensively, and how the new tax credit for clean hydrogen puts the focus on carbon intensity (CI) instead.

With so many low-carbon, carbon-neutral and carbon-negative shipping fuels being touted as the next big thing, it can be hard to determine which are for real and which are mostly hype. Some folks have been talking up LNG, biofuels, clean ammonia, fuel cells ... the list goes on and on. One way to separate the most promising prospects from the also-rans is to keep track of where big shipping companies are placing their bets — and how they’re hedging those wagers, just in case it takes longer than expected to develop fuel-production facilities. Clean methanol in particular is showing signs that it may be one of the frontrunners on both the supply and the demand sides, with an increasing number of firm orders being placed for massive container ships and other vessels that can be fueled by either methanol or low-sulfur fuel oil (LSFO) — there’s the hedge — and a number of new clean methanol production facilities being planned in the U.S. and overseas. (But still, a healthy dose of skepticism about it all is warranted.) In today’s RBN blog, we discuss recent developments in the clean methanol space.

Discussions about electric vehicles (EVs) often focus on the additional demands they will put on the power grid in future years, with concerns about the grid’s reliability and ability to meet peak demand often taking center stage. There’s no doubt that a widespread transition to EVs would pose real challenges, but utilities in California and elsewhere are also starting to think creatively about how to transform those challenges into an opportunity — although there are significant hurdles to clear along the way, including the needed buy-in from EV owners. In today’s RBN blog, we explain California’s so-called duck curve, show how certain EV solutions aim to address some of the power grid’s current problems, and look at some ways to get EV drivers to become active (and willing) participants in a vehicle-to-grid (V2G) initiative, which increasingly looks like an essential element in any long-term plan.

For a lot of us, efforts to amp up the amount of power generated by renewables are largely out of sight, out of mind. We might know that an increasing share of our electricity is being produced by wind- and solar-powered generation, especially if you live in a place like California or Texas, but the impact might be largely unseen because of where many of those facilities tend to be located. That’s beginning to change, however, as renewable projects get bigger and move closer to populated areas, causing all sorts of new issues for energy developers. In today’s RBN blog, we look at the unique challenges that renewable energy projects face, the slowing pace of project development, and some changes that advocates believe could accelerate the permitting process.