Copper River energy

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I had a chance to talk with Copper River Electric about their electrical production.  There was a copy Ruralite sitting on the desk as we chatted.  They apparently have a well informed webpage (http://www.cvea.org) and have been making various efforts to communicate with their customers.  School outreach, fairs, as well as a demonstration turbine that had been put up in their parking lot at one time to attract discussion.

In general, there has been an uptick in solar with a customer service net metering program in place.  (There is a community scale solar array up in Glen.)In the summer, hydro takes the day, and thus rates are not much more than Anchorage’s during those months.  In winter, co-gen kicks in with diesel generators as the water is not as available.

One advantage is that they share with Petro Star refinery and thus their customers get a type of financial payback from savings on that collaboration.  Up river, the Copper River economic authority is talking with them on helping to get at some of the extended challenges of distribution which takes place all the way from Prince William Sound up beyond the Tok Cut Off!

Great work with the community has occurred, and the utility looks forward with more discussions and work as they let folks know of the benefits from the Allison Creek Hydro project completion.

Investing in clean technology

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“Cleantech” is the term given to renewable energy innovations such as wind, solar, hydro, etc.. With viable, electric cars that hit the mainstream auto market just prior the housing financial crash, tax credits were put into place to spur investors into putting money down on cleantech ventures. In the recovery after the crash, the U.S. Administration saw that almost $15 Billion was invested as a part of stimulating economic recovery (in areas that could possibly reduce carbon emissions).  Many people have heard of the solar subsidies, but it also extended to other energy area types.

As fuel oil prices stayed high the next couple of years, you could see the drop in pricing of capital/supplies, but it wasn’t driven so much from the now well endowed American companies offering lower prices as much as it was from Chinese product dropping the prices. And thus Chinese solar panels that were up toward $7 a watt in cost a decade ago are now almost  $1 a watt. Time will tell what the life of the panels ends up being and how much quality reduction lead to possibly part of the price drop.  Wind turbine prices have dropped also, yet they are in a different category in that you cannot buy inexpensive parts like panels, and over time ‘build up’ a considerable system.  You choose turbines under much more constrained economic considerations which influences who and how much investment needs to be sought out.  And hydro dams are even worse, with bonds often having to be utilized for purchasing a ‘unit’.

The question right now is with oil being forecasted at a drop to bring it back down to $20/barrell, what will that do to purchases- and  investment for even ‘cleaner’ tech?

 

 

 

How did the cleantech bubble burst?

“The problem with this is that early-stage startups have to work harder to obtain funding, meaning that fewer novel and potentially game-changing technologies are getting past the early stage,” reads the 2017 Brookings report. The report makes a grim forecast for the future of alternative fuels and energy independence in the US should these trends continue. “If the trend continues, breakthrough and game-changing technologies will be underfunded, and the ability of the US economy to break free from the domination of fossil fuels in the next 25-50 years will be reduced.”

Of course, solar power and electric cars are both going strong in the United States today. But the products and the markets look very different than was expected back at the tail end of President Bush’s term, and VC appetite has never recovered.

A cautionary tale

Cleantech has, therefore, become the cautionary tale of venture capital and a handful of food industry stakeholders are thinking about how to avoid letting food tech end up in a similar position.

“Unlike some technologies, where you invent a better phone and then all of a sudden it’s just a better piece of hardware and technology, and everything else becomes obsolete, food’s not gonna work like that. Food is going to take a much slower evolution of change, with step-by-step innovation, and with innovation, you’re going to have an evolution of progress,” Sam Kass, partner at Acre Venture Partners told AgFunderNews earlier this month.

Investment in food tech has grown exponentially in recent years. According to AgFunder’s AgTech Investing report, which includes innovative food such as alternative proteins, online food marketplaces, and e-commerce, novel ingredients, indoor agriculture, as well as farm tech, investment increased 540% between 2011 and 2016. It reached a peak of $4.6 billion in 2015, a bumper year for venture capital across industries, and fell off a little in 2016 to $3.23 billion as VC markets globally muted. In 2016 it represented 2.5% of the $127 billion raised globally in venture capital, according to the VenturePulse report.

“There’s a flood of money coming in and my concern is we need to be very mindful of where VC models work and where they don’t,” says Chris Mallett, corporate vice president of R&D at global agribusiness Cargill.

“In the past, VCs have been able, in areas like IT and pharma, to scale their business rapidly enough to allow them to exit within a decade. In agriculture and food, where supply chains are complex, plants are needed to make products, and adoption of new technology is slow, the evidence from [cleantech] suggests they’re not going to do it successfully without strategic partners.”

What’s a window?

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When it comes to recommendations for energy efficiency actions after someone has had a weatherization team perform an audit on their home, replacing windows and tuning up the furnace or boiler are often on the top of the list.  From an energy point of view, often you may hear, “a window is a big hole in your wall”.  This is usually in the context of most Interior homes having exterior  walls rated for at least 20R; yet windows of medium grade an average cost (with multiple panes and filled with gas) are around 4R.

Thus there are different gasses that can be used, different styles of glass, various films that can be added to reduce infra-red ray and a handful of materials to build the frames out of.  Yet aside from the building materials and technologies of film application, a window’s insulative  performance will be influenced greatly by the installation.  It is very important to have the window opening prepared for moisture control.  Using backer rod to fill space well and applying a caulking that won’t break up from being exposed at -40 degrees (F) in the winter and possibly in the 90’s during the summer are important aspects to a good installation.  Also, the sealing and then integration of siding over the vertical wall sheeting is very important.

Though today’s windows are being made better out of recent advantages from research in the last couple decades, we still at best can get ~7 or 8R out of a window under the best of insulation methods.  Most people cannot afford to pay a couple thousand dollars for one of these cutting edge picture windows, yet they can control how well or poorly the installation job is for their own home windows.  How are your windows?

Energy down south…

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While eyes in the U.S. Adminstration are looking up North on the slope and off shore when it comes to future energy production, some eyes are looking south.  Mexico used to be known as a strong oil producer.  But down further past the equator Venezuela pretty much took up the stage with OPEC production- even Alaskan’s remote villages know well of Venezuela from oil checks they had received about a decade ago from Citgo Corp.  With oil prices dropping and Venezuela in a social/economic tailspin, it may seem to the average American that South American is pretty much a third world continent with sporatic production and power distribution.

Yet there are a number of movements toward incorporating renewable elements. Obviously with the northern part of South America have the consistency of even days and nights through the year in terms of  solar exposure, figuring out how to put that radiation to use is a priority.  With much of the continent having coastal line, tidal is another obvious energy source- yet harnessing it and storage area a site specific often.

Starting with the largest of nations, Brazil, there are political problems that stymie optimal production, and with the size of their rural landscape it is a challenge in distributing the energy they area able to generate. Looking over to the west coast, Columbia seems to have a somewhat political stable situation (in comparison of years past).  With the ability to install renewable panels and turbines without worrying about vandalism from rebels and pockets of druglords, this country is known as the ‘sleeping giant’ of renewables.  Needless to say, with more order there are bound to be more financiers willing to even look at project potentials….

Chile has a good growth factor in solar, and their focus on storage and transmission will be no doubt a community development lens  for the next generation. With the mountainous area on the west side of the continent, the countries there are investing in figuring out distribution of energy generated.  This would include Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia.  Certainly in the southern part of the continent political stability has been more helpful toward rural energy being supplied through several climes.  Keep an eye in the future on the ‘other side’ of the equator.

Petroleum dropping this summer….will refined gas prices follow?

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You may have seen the price of gas approaching two and a half bucks a gallon now that crude oil is $42/gal.  A few years ago it was over $4.25 in Fairbanks when crude hit $110  a drum.  The question for many is this: will a reduction in crude oil on the commodity market drop gas at the pump by the same proportion.  It doesn’t seem to.  Gas is a refined product of commodity crude.   It really is its own product though, with a different seasonal demand than other petrol derivatives such as fuel oil.  (Fuel oil demand tends to be strong in the winter when heating usage increases; gas demand tends to be strong in the summer when people have vacation time and choose to travel).

There are associated costs with gas such as transportation costs to and from refineries (as crude on the commodities exchange is virtual in a sense and not subject to weight, movement, and other cost difficulties).  In addition, oil petroleum reserves can create differences in costs per gas.   Nonetheless, with gas being at almost a decade low, retail markets try to figure out where there may be an increase of revenues due to lower gas prices applying less pressure on households’ discretionary budgets.  Certainly restaurants and lodging vendors expect and increase of revenues for auto vacationers.  I haven’t heard how airline vendors calculate cash flow differences.

The trend of lower commodity crude spot prices effects more than American drivers though.  It can apply pressure to geo-political relationships.  Venezuela has been driven down into a trench of debt.  Russia has potential political problems with their national revenue revolving to a large part on oil. And of course Mideast tranquility will be effected.  Keep an eye on those pump prices- and the nightly news!

 

 

 

Oil politics

With the state leasing land to exploration companies up on the North Slope and the passage of Prop. the last few years, there have been intentional attempts to attract more oil related businesses into supplying the services that lead to more production. With the second special session of the Legislature currently open and various negotiations taking place, oil drilling  in the state is getting a new look over.

Caelus Energy had been one of the firms drilling up on the slope, yet it now is going into hold with fears of how the current tax and credit will possibly be altered.  In trying to solve the current stand off between the state House and Senate, Governor Walker (who prior has been an oil case attorney) has proposed to get off the books quickly the hundreds of dollars which the state owes oil companies for prior drilling by Caelus or other producers.  Meanwhile the state senate is wanting to boost the tax credits for producers by roughly a  third of a billion dollars.

With the Senate and House at logger jams, Some in state government are thinking that the need to call special sessions and nearing of the July 1 deadline for coming up with a budget resolution (so that the state doesn’t have to come up with a government shutdown)  show that strong negotiations are going to take place- yet not in time for the new fiscal year.  Whenever it is solved, there certainly will be talk of changing the oil producer credit system one way or the other.

 

 

 

Tip of the spear

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This week the lead ranking Republican and Democrat of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee were on the Alaskan coast listening about Alaskan solutions.  Ranking Democrat Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) who was present in Cordova noted that Alaska is the ‘tip of the spear’ in terms of energy systems that will be employed in the future.  The current CEO of the local utility (Clay Koplin) spoke to smart grids that are linked up with real-time demand.  The utility has done great work to create more power generation with remote hydro, yet at the hearing he spoke to conservation efficiencies down to the level of an appliance.  Similar efforts have been made the last few years on the west coast of Alaska where wind turbines are co-generating power with diesel engines, and having a real time load usage from communication dwelling by dwelling can help both coordinate with each other when producing power.

With current concerns on cyber attacks, micro-grids are still of interest and by necessity of the remoteness of many of Alaska’s communities, utilities have worked out many of the glitches when trying to power with constant loads and backup areas with several dozen buildings needing reliable power.  The military has been wanting to know about more of the efficient ways to run these small systems, yet now consumers in various parts of the country area also interested on having independent power at a small scale for security and consistency.  In this regard, Alaska can lead other states by example.

 

Electric grid interruptions….. brought to you by Russia?

In the last couple decades there has been concern of electronics infrastructures, vehicles and appliances being wiped out in a moment from an EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse).  Concerns recently have surfaced with North Korean nuclear tests raising the possibility of an atmospheric blast that can possibly deliver an EMP.  People have looked into old technology such as Faraday Cages or buying old vehicles that lack electric control modules for possible survival if a sudden damaging event happens.

In the last couple days though, there has been a concern of the wiping out of actual grid systems through computer hacking.  The latest suspicion raised somewhat by the flurry over election interference is that hackers sympathetic to Russia have the ability to electronically ‘infect’ electrical grids in the US.  An example is the limiting of 20% of the Ukraine’s electrical imports from Kiev a couple years ago.

The new malware group of concern, Sandworm,  is believed by some to be tied to Russia’s security service.  Cyber damage to infrastructure is something the U.S. has also had capabilities toward, such as the Student worm which many believe was created to disrupt Iran’s creation of enriched uranium.  If such a cyber malware hit U.S. grids, how effected would Alaska be? Since Alaska only shares infrequently electrons with Yukon it would probably not effect the direct flow of electricity – but our goods, such as 85% of consumed food coming up weekly from Seattle could effect us greatly.

Alaska has something to share….

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In yesterday’s Alaska Dispatch there was an article which focused on things that Alaska has done in energy which other places come to study and possibly mimic.  Certainly there are unique features to be looked at that can help other countries with similar characteristics such as:

  • remote populations
  • small communities
  • lack of transportation infrastructure for energy transfer
  • permafrost
  • electrical cogeneration from more than one local energy source
  • extreme natural disasters

The article focuses on case studies and several examples (https://www.adn.com/alaska-life/we-alaskans/2017/06/04/what-alaska-can-teach-the-world-about-renewable-energy/).

Take a look of the various communities and how they look first off for local extraction and local hire!

Figures for 2014 Energy Consumption

Figures from the Energy Information Administration (U.S. EIA) have come out and shown that compared to the rest of the U.S., Alaska (in 2014) used up, per person, the fourth most amount of energy than other states.  The total of Alaska usage was over twice the national amount.  As a state, Alaska had the 40th lowest carbon dioxide emissions, at 35 million metric tons  (which is about a third of the national average).

When looking at types of fuels consumed, natural gas, aviation fuel and then distilled fuel oil were the top three.  The overall amount of gas came in next at about one tenth the supply.  Industrial use was the top consumption, with transportation being next at half of the industrial.

Remoteness, lack of distribution infrastructure and lack of large markets of demand make end use of energy more expensive.  We may have vast resources to extract, but the form is not in a user ready condition and often has to be refined, scrubbed or put into a usable form for combustion or inversion. Though there is just over a two year lag in data, hopefully Alaska will see an improvement in lowering its per capita energy consumption in 2018 when the 2015 data comes out.