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Stock SectorOctober 19, 20187min5


World Energy Day, first initiated in 2012 by the World Energy Forum as a time to raise awareness of energy use and promote global decarbonising efforts, falls on 22 October.

News of startlingly extreme global temperatures and weather conditions caused by climate change has led nations across the world to step up clean energy efforts, with technological innovations causing prices of solutions such as wind and solar to dip and installations to soar. However, despite renewables’ growing grasp of the energy market, the industry still faces the problem of universal energy access.

To mark World Energy Day, Power Technology looks at global energy access and the measures under way to improve it.

Read more: Is it possible to provide energy access for all and avoid climate change?

Who doesn’t have power?

Developed countries have not considered consistent and reliable electricity a luxury in for some time now. With many considering consistent electricity the norm, it is an uncomfortable fact that there remain areas with intermittent or non-existent access to electricity. However, according to The World Bank, a billion people are still living without power, while a 2017 report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) says that by 2030, 674 million people will still be without electricity. The IEA predicts that the vast majority – nearly 90% – of this number will be in sub-Saharan Africa.

Innovations in decentralised energy systems have allowed the problem of energy access to be addressed. The same IEA report states the number of people without access to electricity fell to 1.1 billion in 2016, down from 1.6 billion in 2000. For the first time, the number of people gaining access to electricity in Sub-Saharan Africa has begun to outstrip population growth, and progress in Asia has been even faster.

India is currently leading the race, expecting to reach complete electrification by 2020, ten years earlier than the target set under the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for universal energy access.

However, authorities need to do much more work needs if the target of universal electrification is to be reached by 2030.

Achieving universal energy access

The solution to electrifying detached communities lies in the deployment of decentralised, renewable energy networks. Mini- and off-grid systems offer communities agency over their energy consumption and independence from the main grid, while renewables are becoming increasingly inexpensive and thus more viable for smaller, developing sites.

Increased investment into these technologies is integral to currently unelectrified homes receiving affordable and reliable power. According to the IEA report, universal electrification would require an annual investment of $52bn, representing ‘more than twice the level mobilised under current and planned policies’.

“Of the additional investment, 95% needs to be directed to sub-Saharan Africa,” the report reads. “Detailed geospatial modelling suggests that decentralised systems, led by solar photovoltaic in off-grid systems and mini-grids, are the least-cost solution for three-quarters of the additional connections needed in sub-Saharan Africa.”

The World Bank is one of the organisations working to ramp up financing for energy access programmes. One such investment is a $350m electrification program in Nigeria that is expected to attract $410m in private investment and create a market for mini and off-grid energy solutions. Based on this scheme, the Nigerian Rural Electrification Agency is mapping more than 200 sites for mini-grid development.

Similarly, the corporation supports more than $1.3bn of generation, transmission, distribution and off-grid investments in Kenya. As a result, the country has more than doubled its electricity access rates from 23% in 2009 to 56% in 2016.

India provides a key example of a nation working to rapidly electrify. Last year, the Modi government pledged to electrify every home in the region by 31 December 2018, under a INR163 bn (US$2.5bn) scheme known as ‘Saubhagya Yojna’. Since then, authorities have supplied 80% of previously unconnected villages with power, using solar, energy storage batteries and LED lighting.

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Stock SectorOctober 18, 20184min11


Samsung’s production wing, Samsung Foundry, has launched a new production process of its 7-nanometer (nm) Low Power Plus (7LPP) process node, which could reduce its energy consumption by up to 50 percent, according to an official press release Oct. 18.

The new process, based on extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography technology, makes the new 7LPP chips more dense (area efficient) and energy efficient. This could have positive implications for crypto miners usings Samsung’s hardware, as energy costs prove to be a critical factor in the industry’s profitability.  

As mining hardware develops at a rapid pace, chips continue to become smaller and more efficient. In April, Samsung manufactured 10nm hardware for Halong Mining’s DragonMint T1. According to Samsung, the new EUV-based 7LPP process node is a big push of Samsung Foundry’s technology roadmap, and could pave the way for 3 nm technology node semiconductor manufacturing.

Samsung states that 7LPP will enable a technological push in artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), networking, automotive, 5G, and enterprise and hyperscale datacenter.

While Samsung did not disclose the names of the first customers to use the new 7LPP manufacturing technology, the firm implied that the first chips to use it will target mobile and high performance computing (HPC) applications.

Charlie Bae, Executive vice president of foundry sales and marketing team at Samsung Electronics, said that the introduction of the new EUV-based 7LPP node is a revolutionary milestone in the semiconductor industry. He stated that the “fundamental shift” of wafers manufacturing will be an “optimal choice not only for mobile and HPC, but also for a wide range of cutting-edge applications.”

Earlier today, major global chip manufacturing firm Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing (TSMC) predicted low demand for crypto mining hardware to counterbalance its revenue growth Q4 2018.

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Stock SectorOctober 18, 20186min9


Senator Bernie Sanders speaks during a keynote session at the South By Southwest (SXSW) conference in Austin, Texas, U.S., on Friday, March 9, 2018. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

When discussing energy policies, I think it’s critical to accurately represent facts. Otherwise, we may end up making ineffective policy decisions based on myths or half-truths.

For example, last week Senator Bernie Sanders shared this video about geothermal energy on his Facebook page. The two-minute video was done by “The Years Project“, whose mission is “a global storytelling and education effort to inform, empower, and unite the world in the face of climate change.”

In this case, however, the video does a bit of misinforming.

The video starts out asking how Iceland went from being Europe’s poorest country to one of its richest. The answer, the video asserts, lies deep underground, where Iceland gets “most of its energy” from geothermal power.

This is misleading.

Iceland does utilize geothermal power, but more than 70% of the country’s electricity production comes from hydropower.

According to Iceland’s National Energy Authority, geothermal power produces about 25% of the country’s electricity. But many of Iceland’s homes are heated by geothermal water, and that is the source of the myth that Iceland runs mostly on geothermal power.

The video goes on to claim that geothermal is as clean as wind or solar power. It is true that the carbon footprint of geothermal is low, but the water contains dissolved sulfur compounds. It does smell just as strongly as an oil well or a refinery in many locations.

The video further claims that between geothermal and hydropower, “Iceland has 100% renewable energy.” That is inaccurate. The vast majority of the country’s vehicles are powered by fossil fuels. I was in Iceland last week, and almost every vehicle I saw on the road was running on fossil fuels.

Screenshot from Bernie Sanders’ Facebook pageRobert Rapier

But then the video gets into the mythology that the U.S. has now taken note of Iceland’s success, and is in the process of replicating it. The fact is that the U.S. has always been the global leader in geothermal power production.

The U.S. is the world’s largest producer of geothermal power, with over five times Iceland’s geothermal capacity. This year’s Renewables Global Status Report shows just how far ahead of the rest of the world the U.S. actually is:

Global Geothermal Power CapacityREN21 GSR

On a per capita basis and as a percentage of overall U.S. energy consumption it’s a pretty low amount. But unlike the U.S., Iceland is a small, sparsely populated country right on top of a geothermal hot spot.

This is certainly not meant as a criticism of geothermal power as an energy source, or of Iceland as a country. Geothermal is an important renewable energy source, and Iceland has rightfully embraced it.

But the video gives a misleading impression of Iceland as a country powered by geothermal energy, and it grossly understates the leading role of the U.S. in geothermal power. This video leaves the impression that the U.S. followed Iceland’s lead. But no country has ever produced more geothermal power than the U.S.

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Stock SectorOctober 18, 201814min9


Corporate renewable energy procurement in the United States has reached a new level.

As of August, non-utility buyers had announced contracts for more than 3.5 gigawatts of renewable energy projects in 2018 to date, setting a new single-year record in the U.S. That’s well above the previous 3.12-gigawatt record set in 2015, and the 2.89 gigawatts contracted for in 2017.

Since then, procurement numbers have continued to grow, as the corporate renewables market has matured and expanded to include new geographies and new buyers. 

According to the latest figures from Business Renewables Center, a membership program at Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), corporate buyers in the U.S. have now purchased a total of 4.81 gigawatts of renewable energy so far this year — and are expected to top 5 gigawatts by December.

The total number of commercial and industrial renewable energy deals will be even higher, as RMI’s numbers refer only to contracts for large, off-site renewable energy projects. That means rooftop solar projects deployed by the likes of Ikea and Target are not included in the RMI deal tracker, which was updated this week at the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance conference in Oakland, California.

There are two main reasons for this, according to Kevin Haley, BRC program manager. First, there’s been strong continued support from major tech companies with large electricity loads. Facebook and AT&T, for instance, have procured the most new renewable energy capacity in 2018, with other large deals from Microsoft, Apple and Walmart. The second reason is that the pool of corporate customers is starting to expand.

“A strong number of new first-time buyers are continuing to enter into the market,” said Haley. “A lot of this growth is being driven by companies that may not have done a deal yet.”

In fact, 2018 has also set a record for the most first-time buyers in a single year. Nearly 20 new corporate buyers entered the renewable energy market this year, while the cumulative number of unique buyers this year is just shy of 70.

Companies are facing some pressure to procure renewables this year with the Investment Tax Credit for solar and the Production Tax Credit for wind set to step down over the next few years. But according to Haley, that’s not the main driver of growth at this point.

“It’s still very much market interest, and new buyers, and that sort of thing,” he said. “But we do anticipate companies will want to lock in lower prices as the expiration of the PTC [and ITC] comes up.”

Many companies are taking the push for 100 percent renewables seriously because they see it as good business — not just today, but for the long-term. At the time of publication, 152 companies of various sizes have made a commitment to go 100 percent renewable through RE100. Big names like Apple and Google have already met their targets, while other companies are looking out further into the future, some as far as 2040. That timeline indicates companies are looking beyond today’s prices and present-day marketing benefits.

“I think it’s something they’re seeing as achievable, as power purchase agreements and other transactions become more streamlined and easier to use and de-risked,” Haley said.

Also, “as they look at the future of the grid and the future of policy and consider what a potential carbon tax impact may have on their business,” he added. “This is something where companies are looking further down the road and saying, ‘This makes good business sense.’”

Derisking corporate renewable energy deals

In the interest of re-risking renewable energy deals, Microsoft this week announced a new way to make corporate power-purchase agreements (PPAs) less complex. Microsoft and co-developer REsurety, along with partners at Nephila Climate and Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty, are calling it a volume firming agreement (VFA).

“VFAs are intended to be a simple fix to a big challenge with renewable energy PPAs, namely that these deals expose the buyer to all the weather-related risks of power production, and the inherent intermittent nature of wind and solar means there are hourly issues to be addressed,” according to a Microsoft blog post.

Renewable energy variability is a problem for corporate buyers. But what is undesirable to buyers is attractive for insurance companies, whose core business revolves around managing weather-related risks. VFAs sit on top of a new or existing PPA and are effectively designed to pay the corporate buyer when they’re getting less renewable power than they contracted for, and give money to the insurer when there’s more.

In addition to co-developing this solution, Microsoft is the first VFA adopter, and anticipates using VFAs to firm its renewable energy generation and match consumption on an hourly basis.

“We all know renewable energy without storage is a variable product and that can have impacts on how the PPA Microsoft enters into performs over the long run,” said Haley. “What they’ve done is de-risk the performance of these PPAs with essentially an insurance product against core performance.”

Signs of a maturing market

This launch of VFAs is a testament to the maturation of the corporate renewables market. Another sign of this is Google’s recent announcement that it’s looking for a way to use zero emissions energy all of the time.

Last year, the tech giant matched 100 percent of its annual electricity consumption with renewable energy purchases, and has committed to continue doing so as the company grows. Last week, Google built on the 100 percent concept with the release of Carbon Heat Maps, which show that there are times and places where Google’s electricity profile is not yet fully carbon-free — which is what Google wants to be. 

“[The maps] suggest that our 100 percent renewable energy purchasing goal — which relies on buying surplus renewable energy when it’s sunny and windy, to offset the lack of renewable energy supply in other situations — is an important first step toward achieving a fully carbon-free future,” Michael Terrell, Google’s head of energy markets, wrote in a blog post. “Ultimately, we aspire to source carbon-free energy for our operations in all places, at all times.”

Going carbon-free “will be no easy feat,” Terrell added, “but the urgency of climate change demands bold solutions.” Google published a discussion paper identifies several key actions that it and other actors can take to achieve 24×7 carbon-free energy.

Not all companies are ready to think about using renewables around the clock, Haley noted. Especially since there’s still more work to be done in opening up the corporate market, both to new buyers and in new locations.

U.S. corporate deals are starting to crop up in more states. Over the past decade, 26 states have done corporate renewable deals. In 2018, Utah became the latest new state to see its first corporate renewable energy procurement.

The expansion is thanks largely to innovation on the policy front, which has opened up opportunities in regulated electricity markets. The number of corporate renewable energy deals signed under utility green tariff programs continues to grow, representing around 25 percent of corporate renewables procurement so far this year. At the same time, utilities are incorporating corporate renewables into their long term planning — and thinking about solutions beyond green tariffs to better meet the needs of existing corporate customers and smaller loads.

As 2018 has shown that serving smaller corporate customers is key to seeing continued corporate renewable energy growth overall. On that front, aggregation has emerged as a promising deal structure, said Haley.

Simply put, this model allows companies of all sizes to partner up on a renewable energy agreement. In August, Apple, Akamai, Etsy and Swiss Re announced an agreement to develop two new wind and solar energy farms in Illinois and Virginia through this method.

Through collaboration, smaller buyers can benefit from economies of scale, while larger buyers can continue to see cost benefits while achieving their renewable energy goals. Aggregation allows companies to procure in a mutually beneficial way with relatively little give and take. For that reason, RMI believes this marks “the beginning of a trend,” Haley said.  

He added that RMI is spending a lot of time with smaller corporate buyers in order to help them enter the market. As large, leading companies move closer to 100 percent renewables, “we want to ensure that’s not the end of the story,” Haley said.

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Stock SectorOctober 18, 20183min9


The European Commission has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Bill Gates-led Breakthrough Energy to set up a joint investment fund called Breakthrough Energy Europe (BEE).

In a statement Wednesday, the Commission said the 100 million-euro ($115.2 million) fund would be used to help “innovative European companies develop and bring radically new clean energy technologies to the market.”

Breakthrough Energy Ventures is an investor-led fund with over $1 billion in committed capital to build “cutting edge companies” to help stop climate change. Its chairman is Bill Gates.

In a statement Wednesday, Gates said that new technologies were needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Europe, Gates added, had demonstrated valuable leadership by making “impressive” investments in research and development.

“The scientists and entrepreneurs who are developing innovations to address climate change need capital to build companies that can deliver those innovations to the global market,” he said. “Breakthrough Energy Europe is designed to provide that capital.”

The Commission said the new fund would focus on cutting greenhouse gas emissions and the promotion of energy efficiency in “the areas of electricity, transport, agriculture, manufacturing, and buildings.” It described BEE as a pilot project that could act as a model for similar initiatives in other thematic areas.

The Commission’s president, Jean-Claude Juncker, said that pooling public and private investment in new and innovative clean energy technology was “key to enabling long-term solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If Europe is to have a future that can guarantee the well-being of all its citizens, it will need to be climate-friendly and sustainable.”

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Stock SectorOctober 18, 20184min11


Chinese stocks fell sharply on Thursday as heavy selling in the energy sector and worries about the levels of borrowing in the stock market added to broader concerns over growth and the global sell-off in equities.

The Shanghai Composite index closed down 2.9 percent at 2,486.42, after hitting its lowest point since November 2014 on Thursday morning.

The blue-chip CSI300 index was down 2.4 percent.

Li Zheming, an analyst at Datong Securities in Xi’an, said the market was dragged down by a confluence of factors, and that overall market sentiment was weak on Thursday.

“Investors have been concerned about risks posed by shares pledged for loans,” said Li Zheming, referring to the jump in margin lending where major investors in companies borrow by pledging their shares.

“There is also some connection with the fall in oil prices,” he said.

More than 637 billion shares worth 4.44 trillion yuan ($639.86 billion) were pledged for loans as of Oct. 12, according to Reuters’ calculations based on data from the China Securities Depository and Clearing Co.(CSDC).

Chinese stocks have fared worse than other stock markets in Asia this year, particularly in recent weeks as global equities bear the brunt of a simmering U.S.-Sino trade war and the prospect of further policy tightening by the U.S. Federal Reserve.

There was barely any palpable relief on news that the U.S. Treasury Department had refrained from naming China a currency manipulator in its semi-annual report released on Wednesday.

Instead, minutes from the Fed’s Sept. 25-26 meeting, which showed every Fed policymaker backed raising interest rates last month, warnings from China’s premier that the economy faces increasing downward pressure, and worries ahead of GDP data Beijing is due to release on Friday weighed on markets.

The yuan ended domestic trading at its weakest close against the dollar since January 2017.

So far this year, the Shanghai stock index is down 24.8 percent and the CSI300 has fallen 24.5 percent. Shanghai stocks have declined 11.9 percent this month.

Energy stocks were led lower by falling energy prices. CSI’s sub-index tracking energy stocks was down 4.91 pct.

The CSI 300 financial sector sub-index was lower by 2.08 percent, the consumer staples sector down 2.17 percent , the real estate index off 1.82 percent and healthcare sub-index 3.89 percent lower.

The across-the-board decline came after a brief bounce-back on Wednesday.

Hong Kong’s stock market, reopening after a holiday on Wednesday, closed flat on Thursday. Around the region, MSCI’s Asia ex-Japan stock index was weaker by 0.65 percent, while Japan’s Nikkei index closed down 0.8 percent.

China’s smaller Shenzhen index ended down 2.73 percent and the start-up board ChiNext Composite index was weaker by 2.18 percent.

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Stock SectorOctober 18, 201813min11


Paul Sutter is an astrophysicist at The Ohio State University and the chief scientist at COSI science center. Sutter is also host of "Ask a Spaceman" and "Space Radio" and leads AstroTours around the world. Sutter contributed this article to Space.com's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

Let's talk about dark energy. We've known for about 20 years that the expansion of our universe is accelerating; every day, our cosmos grows bigger and bigger, doing so faster and faster. It's a subtle effect, and it takes extensive and deep cosmological surveys and studies for scientists to notice it. But multiple independent lines of evidence all point to the same conclusion: accelerating expansion.

Astronomers quickly cooked up a cool name for that accelerated expansion: dark energy. But now we’re left with the much harder job of finding a culprit — what's causing it? [Dark Matter and Dark Energy: The Mystery Explained (Infographic)]

We use general relativity, Albert Einstein's magnum opus, to understand gravity in all its manifestations, including the expansion of the universe. But the theory's equations have some wiggle room. Specifically, they allow for a so-called "cosmological constant," a fixed term that can be appended to the end. Adding this constant doesn't change the theory's descriptions of normal, everyday gravitational interactions, but it does make itself known when you're calculating the expansion of the universe. 

Our natural inclination would be to set this constant to zero and forget about it, but Einstein himself introduced it because he found that without it, his relativity predicted a dynamic universe. At the time, both physicists and the general public thought of the cosmos as static and unchanging, so Einstein set a value for the constant to prevent those dynamic predictions. And then astronomer Edwin Hubble showed everyone that we do indeed live in an expanding universe, and Einstein realized that he'd missed a golden opportunity to predict that revolutionary observation. Oh, well.

But nowadays, we're faced with accelerated expansion, and the simplest explanation we have for it is that is that dark energy is simply Einstein's original cosmological constant. But the constant by itself is just a number — what's its physical significance?

In the 1960s, Soviet astrophysicist and all-around-genius Yakov Zel'dovich made a startling connection. The cosmological constant that appears in Einstein's equations is none other than the vacuum energy that quantum field theory predicts. 

According to that theory, a suite of quantum fields permeates all of space-time. Sometimes, portions of these fields get excited and move around, and this is what we identify as particles. But left unperturbed, the fields are still associated with an energy. In other words, the empty vacuum of space-time has a raw energy, and that energy can be identified a the cosmological constant in general relativity, which means it might be the dark energy itself.

[embedded content]

So, now that we have some sort of trail to follow, what do we predict the value of dark energy to be? The math isn't easy, but you just have to turn the quantum field theory crank, and out pops … infinity. Well, that's not going to work. 

There are games you can play to make the predicted value for dark energy not infinity, but no matter what you do, you always end up with a very large number. But what about the actual, observed amount of dark energy, the one calculated from the accelerated expansion rate? It's very small: the energy equivalent of a little less than 1 hydrogen atom per cubic meter (35 cubic feet).

That "minor" discrepancy between dark energy's predicted value and the observed expansion rate is one of the biggest puzzles in modern physics. And its full resolution will probably come only with a true reckoning between quantum mechanics and general relativity.

Until then, we should probably understand how a vacuum energy can accelerate expansion.

This is one of those weird cases in which the math behind the physics is totally straightforward and unambiguous: Simply put, a constant vacuum energy causes the expansion of the universe to accelerate. But putting this conclusion into words so that we can intuitively understand it is another matter entirely, one that cosmologists have struggled with for decades. 

I'm going to give it a shot myself, but if you just want to say to yourself, "because the math says so," and skip to the next section, I won't blame you.

Two key properties of a vacuum energy affect expansion. One is the vacuum's persistence; as the universe expands, there's more space, so there's more vacuum, so there's more vacuum energy. So, in our evolving cosmos, we find more and more dark energy lying around. The second vacuum property that's key for expansion is that the vacuum has tension (usually, confusingly, referred to as "negative pressure," but same deal). This tension resists the expansion of the universe; it's trying to rein in the expanding cosmos.

Put these two properties together and you get the complete opposite of what you may expect. This is because the equations of general relativity count all sources of energy to determine the behavior of the expansion of the universe, and different sources of energy can contribute positive or negative effects. So, the raw energy of the vacuum gets counted, which would be an attractive contribution, slowing down the expansion of the universe. But so does the vacuum's tension, which actually contributes repulsively., In other words, in the math of general relativity, the tension from dark energy carries a minus sign with it, and contributes to accelerating the expansion of the universe).

[embedded content]

It turns out that general relativity cares more about pressure and tension than raw energy. This is something wholly unfamiliar to us in our everyday experience; in almost all other cases, such as the motions in the solar system or even in the vicinity of black holes, the pressure/tension doesn't matter in the calculation. But it matters here.

The ultimate irony is that even though we're getting more and more dark energy every day, which would normally try to shrink the cosmos, its own resistance to that expansion causes the whole equation to flip around and instead accelerate the universe's growth.

The above explanation may or may not have been satisfying. Again, the math is clear, but there is no simple way to translate those equations to English. Nevertheless, the behavior of vacuum energy is currently our best explanation for the accelerating expansion of the universe. And it's not the greatest one. As we saw, we are severely lacking in our ability to predict the amount of acceleration. 

While the existence of dark energy is beyond doubt, its cause is ultimately unknown. We have some likely suspects but no hard evidence. We need more sleuthing, measuring the universe's expansion rate and the history of the expansion rate to ever-greater precision. But because dark energy is a very subtle effect, it will take an entirely new generation of observations to (hopefully) reveal some answers.

Learn more by listening to the episode "How Does Dark Energy Accelerate the Universe?" on the "Ask a Spaceman" podcast, available on iTunes and on the web at http://www.askaspaceman.com. Thanks to Siri L., Oscar Z., Olivia P., Solly F., Peter W., Scott M., Mallet, Smuel, chrissscottt, Colin E., Dana R., Lindsay F., Rowan H., Robert R., ozderecko and Sam B. for the questions that led to this piece! Ask your own question on Twitter using #AskASpaceman or by following Paul @PaulMattSutter and at facebook.com/PaulMattSutter. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook. Original article on Space.com.

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Stock SectorOctober 18, 201810min18


ADJUNTAS, Puerto Rico – Visitors to Casa Pueblo, a community center in this mountain hamlet, can tour the solar-powered meeting rooms, listen in on the solar-powered radio station or catch a documentary at the solar-powered movie theater. Later, they could lunch at one of Puerto Rico’s first fully solar-powered restaurants just down the street.

On an island gripped by energy anxiety, Casa Pueblo is a calming oasis.

“This is the model we want for the rest of the [island],” said Alexis Massol-González, founding director of Casa Pueblo, a community center and renewables advocacy group. “It would be an energy revolution.”

Hurricane Maria blasted through Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, 2017, battering the island’s outdated power grid and plunging the U.S. commonwealth into darkness for nearly a year. The lack of power has been a major challenge for Puerto Ricans recovering from the storm and was a key factor in widespread fatalities after the hurricane. The death toll from the storm is 2,975, based on estimates from a study by George Washington University researchers.

Officials everywhere have grappled with how to quickly restore power after a major storm. Teams of utility workers were still working this week in the Florida Panhandle to restore power to hundreds of thousands of customers left powerless by the 155 mph sustained winds of Hurricane Michael earlier this month. Tens of thousands of homes have already regained power at a pace that has surprised some observers. 

But in Puerto Rico, restoring power has been a slower, much bigger project that entails, in many cases, completely rebuilding what was a fragile system to begin with. Federal officials have spent more than $3 billion to end the longest blackout in U.S. history and return the Puerto Rican power grid to pre-storm conditions. Now comes the long, tough task of improving the system – at a cost of billions of more federal dollars – to avoid future massive blackouts. How the grid is rebuilt will be a key question in Puerto Rico’s recovery from Maria.

Puerto Rican officials have estimated it will take another $26 billion to upgrade the island’s energy grid, though that money has not been approved by Washington.  

“There are a lot of temporary patches that have been done,” said Sergio Marxuach, public policy director at the Center for a New Economy, a San Juan-based economic think tank. “It’s functional, but the work on the permanent fix has not started yet.”

At the center of the island’s grid rebuild effort is what to do with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, or PREPA, an agency racked by allegations of corruption and $9 billion in debt. Gov. Ricardo Rosselló has proposed privatizing parts of the electrical system, including its oil-powered generation plants. Other suggestions include switching the system to natural gas.

But these plans don’t include a clear path to renewable energy sources, leaving the system vulnerable to future storms, said Cathy Kunkel, an analyst with the Cleveland-based Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, who co-wrote a July study on this issue. An improved power grid in Puerto Rico should include “microgrids,” or clusters of customers around the island who could disconnect from the larger system if a storm hits and generate power on their own, she said. That strategy would begin to shift the power grid away from its reliance on oil and toward renewables.

Such a massive shift would be difficult, costly and time-consuming but not impossible, Kunkel said. Lawmakers in Hawaii, an archipelago of 1.4 million residents, passed a series of energy bills three years ago directing the state’s utilities to switch to 100 percent renewable energy resources by 2045.

“Obviously, doing that tomorrow for the whole island [of Puerto Rico] is not going to happen,” she said. “But it’s smart to prioritize investment in that direction, which is not what the government of Puerto Rico is doing.”

Since Maria, some communities have already taken action to seek greater energy independence and push toward renewables, such as solar and wind. Tesla, the high-tech maker of electric cars and other products, has launched more than 11,000 projects across the island, including solar panels on homes. 

In Adjuntas, Casa Pueblo has the lead. Massol-González founded Casa Pueblo in 1980 to oppose open-pit mining in the nearby mountains. His group won that battle and later morphed into advocates of renewable energy. Using donations and proceeds from sales from local artisans, they purchased a house near the city’s central square and attached 45 solar panels to the roof capable of generating 10 kilowatts of power. In 2002, Massol-González won the prestigious Goldman Prize for his environmental advocacy work.

Last year, as Maria pummeled homes, tore off roofs and knocked out power in Adjuntas, Casa Pueblo’s lights remained on, he said. With the area cloaked in darkness, the early 20th-century wood-frame home became a glowing beacon for the community. The center’s radio station, powered by solar panels, remained on air the whole time, broadcasting important updates and tips. 

Residents began streaming into the center to plug in cell phones, dialysis machines or small refrigerators holding vital medicines.

“At times, hundreds of people would show up each day,” Massol-González said. “They called it an ‘energy oasis.’”

Casa Pueblo secured 14,000 solar lamps in the wake of the storm and distributed them to the community. As of late July, they had helped five homes place solar panels, with the goal of making 30 homes throughout the city solar self-sufficient.

In July, a contingent of U.S. Congress members led by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, on a fact-finding mission to Puerto Rico, made the trek to Adjuntas to meet Massol-González and witness Puerto Rico’s fledgling solar trend firsthand. 

Though destructive, Maria showed Massol-González and the Casa Pueblo staff they could survive even the most brutal meteorological attacks on the island, even if the rest of the island is crippled, he said. It’s a lesson Massol-González hopes starts to spread across the island.

“We’re fighting against dependency,” he said. “We know we could make transformative changes.”

Follow Jervis on Twitter: @MrRJervis.

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Stock SectorOctober 18, 20188min11


Growing oil and gas production from shale fields will act as a “balance” for deepwater projects, the new head of Royal Dutch Shell’s US business said, as the energy major strives for flexibility in the transition to cleaner fuels.

Gretchen Watkins said drilling far beneath oceans in the US Gulf of Mexico, Brazil and Nigeria secured revenues for the longer-term, but tapping shale reserves in the US, Canada and Argentina enabled nimble decision-making.

“The role that [the shale business] plays in Shell’s portfolio is one of being a good balance for deepwater,” Ms Watkins said in her first interview since she joined the Anglo-Dutch major in May. 

Capital-intensive deepwater projects take time to develop, but are seen as lucrative long-term investments. Meanwhile, shale projects require modest cash injections to start up but they ebb and flow faster. 

“You can be much more agile in your investment decisions,” said Ms Watkins, adding that spending and operations in the shale business can be ramped up or down, depending on market moves. 

We are coming into a place in the next year or so where we will be a high growth business

“[It] is a natural hedge in the portfolio,” she added. 

Ms Watkins, the former chief executive of Denmark’s Maersk Oil before it was acquired by France’s Total, has become head of the shale business and will take on an additional role overseeing all US operations in the future.

Investments into shale have risen as energy companies have been under pressure to rein in costs, pay down debt and boost returns to investors through dividends and share buybacks. 

So-called short-cycle projects have also become more attractive amid uncertainty about future demand for fossil fuels and the expected global shift towards cleaner forms of energy.

Shell, Ms Watkins said, was making bets in order to be in a “thriving mode” through a turbulent energy transition.

Shell is allocating between $2bn and $3bn every year to the shale business, which is about 10 per cent of the company’s annual capital expenditure until 2020 and half of its expected spending on deepwater projects.

As costs for deepwater projects come down and can generate a profit with oil prices well below $40 a barrel, they are increasingly competing with shale for capital. “We can stand right alongside deepwater,” said Ms Watkins. 

For much of the past decade, smaller oil companies drove the boom in US shale output by making breakthroughs in new drilling technology that turned the US into the world’s fastest-growing producer. 

Now big energy companies that were once slow to invest and had difficulties in making the shale business work have become more efficient and achieved scale. 

Shell, which took a $2.1bn writedown on the value of unconventional oilfields in 2013, says its performance has improved and it aims to make shale a bigger part of its business in the 2020s.

Thursday, 6 September, 2018

Shell is focusing investment in the Permian Basin of Texas and New Mexico and the Duvernay shale in Alberta. Unconventional oil and gas production is due to double from 250,000 barrels of oil equivalent a day last year by 2020.

But Shell’s US production outlook to 2030 still lags behind ExxonMobil, Chevron and BP, analysts at consultancy WoodMackenzie said. While ExxonMobil has the most acreage, Chevron has the most valuable portfolio, dominated by its unrivalled Permian position. BP’s recent acquisition of miner BHP’s US shale assets has also given it a sizeable boost. 

Ms Watkins said Shell sought to become even more efficient while keeping rising costs in check. This would boost productivity as it banks on shale as an important engine for growth in the next decade. Costs have fallen by 65 per cent in the Permian and Shell plans to generate free cash flow by 2019 in the basin. 

“We are coming into a place in the next year or so where we will be a high-growth business,” said Ms Watkins, referring to both higher levels of production and financial returns. 

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Stock SectorOctober 18, 20184min9


“We cannot do it alone,” said Carlos Moedas, the European Commission’s head for research, science, and innovation. Moedas was standing next to Bill Gates at a press event in Brussels to announce a new “public-private partnership” designed to help Europe hit climate goals.

Moedes and Gates yesterday (Oct. 17) launched Breakthrough Energy Europe, a €100 million ($115 million) fund to invest in “radical” clean-energy technologies. Half the amount will come from InnovFin, a European Investment Bank financing tool for research and innovation projects, and the other half from Breakthrough Energy, which includes Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV), a $1 billion fund backed by Gates and a group of some of the world’s richest people, including Jeff Bezos, Jack Ma, and Richard Branson, and Breakthrough Energy Coalition, a network of institutions, corporations, and influential individuals that Gates can draw from when his team needs expertise and funds.

“With any luck, we’ll be able to fully invest [the European fund] in less than a couple of years,” Gates said. “And then we can come back and want to scale this up.”

BEV has invested in 20 startups to date, Gates said. Nine of those investments are public (Quartz was the first to report two investments in June and seven more in September). Gates noted that those investments have so far primarily focused on North America, but through Breakthrough Energy Europe, the fund will now open offices in the EU and will invest in European clean-energy companies. Gates mentioned energy storage and technologies to cut emissions from the industrial and agricultural sectors as potential targets.

The goal of BEV is to invest in high-risk, high-reward startups. A team of entrepreneurs, scientists, and investors, based in Boston, makes the decision about which companies to fund, but there is one overarching criterion: companies need to show that their technology has the potential to cut as much as 500 million metric tons of annual greenhouse-gas emissions. (This criterion will also apply to the Breakthrough Energy Europe fund, according to a spokesperson for the EU.)

Like BEV’s $1 billion fund, the European fund will not be looking for returns for at least 20 years, according to an EU spokesperson. In a way, Gates is helping European bureaucrats take a bolder approach to energy innovation.

“We want private investors to have much more say,” said Maroš Šefčovič, European Commission’s vice president for energy. “They can be much faster at making the right decision.”

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