Sunday, September 16, 2018

Berkeley Lab’s “Utility-Scale Solar” documents an expanding U.S. market

... The 2018 edition of Berkeley Lab’s Utility-Scale Solar report ... presents [an] analysis of empirical project-level data from the U.S. fleet of ground-mounted solar projects with capacities exceeding 5 MW-AC.... [The] report explores trends in deployment and project design, installed project prices, operating costs, capacity factors, power purchase agreement (PPA) prices, and the levelized cost of energy (LCOE) among both utility-scale photovoltaic (PV) and concentrating solar-thermal power (CSP) projects.

Key findings from this year’s edition of this annual report series include:
  • The utility-scale PV market continues to expand geographically across the United States, with 33 states home to one or more utility-scale solar projects at the end of 2017.  For the first time in the history of the U.S. market, the lion’s share (70%) of new solar capacity added in 2017 is located outside of historical strongholds California and the Southwest, with the Southeast in particular accounting for 40% of all new capacity.  
  • Projects that track the sun throughout the day continued to dominate fixed-tilt projects, with nearly 80% of all new utility-scale PV capacity added in 2017 employing single-axis tracking.
  • Median installed project prices declined to $2.0/WAC (or $1.6/WDC) in 2017, with the lowest 20th percentile priced at or below $1.8/WAC (or $1.3/WDC). 
  • Project-level capacity factors vary widely, from 14%-35% (on an AC basis), based on a number of factors, including insolation, tracking vs. fixed-tilt, and inverter loading ratio. On an average fleetwide basis, AC capacity factors have stabilized at around 27% in recent years as the increasing use of tracking compensates for the build-out of lower-insolation sites.
  • PPA prices continued to decline, to below $40/MWh on average and with a few as low as $20/MWh (levelized, in 2017 dollars).

  • These falling PPA prices have been offset to some degree by declining wholesale market value within a few high-penetration markets like California, where an abundance of mid-day solar generation has suppressed wholesale power prices (see the text box on page 37 of the full report).
  • Adding battery storage to shift a portion of this excess mid-day solar generation into evening hours is one way to partially restore the wholesale market value of solar. Recent PPAs for PV plus battery storage projects suggest that this technology combination has become significantly cheaper than it was just a year ago, and is increasingly attractive in high-penetration areas (see text box on page 38 of the full report).
The full Utility-Scale Solar report, along with an accompanying summary slide deck, a data file, and a number of interactive data visualizations, can be found at

In addition, a free webinar summarizing key findings from the report will be held on Thursday, September 20 at 10 AM Pacific/1 PM Eastern.  Register for the webinar here.

For questions on the report, feel free to contact Mark Bolinger ( or Joachim Seel ( at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Lawrence Berkeley Lab Electric Policy Markets Group

Also see which points to the following
  • Installation and Technology Trends:  The use of solar trackers dominated 2017 installations with nearly 80% of all new capacity.  In a reflection of the ongoing geographic expansion of the market beyond California and the high-insolation Southwest, the median insolation level at newly built project sites declined again in 2017.  While new fixed-tilt projects are now seen predominantly in less-sunny regions, tracking projects are increasingly pushing into these same regions.  The median inverter loading ratio grew to 1.32 in 2017, allowing the inverters to operate closer to full capacity for a greater percentage of the day.
  • Installed Prices:  Median installed PV project prices have steadily fallen by two-thirds since the 2007-2009 period, to $2.0/WAC (or $1.6/WDC) for projects completed in 2017.  The lowest 20th percentile of projects within our 2017 sample were priced at or below $1.8/WAC, with the lowest-priced projects around $0.9/WAC.  Overall price dispersion across the entire sample has decreased steadily every year since 2013; similarly, price variation across regions decreased in 2017.
  • Operation and Maintenance (“O&M”) Costs:  PV O&M costs were in the neighborhood of $16/kWAC-year, or $8/MWh, in 2017. These numbers include only those costs incurred to directly operate and maintain the generating plant.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Road makers turn to recycled plastic for tougher surfaces - On the plastic highway

OF ALL the plastic produced since the 1950s, less than 10% has been recycled. The vast majority ends up being dumped, most of it in landfill. Some is left to litter the natural environment, where it can get into rivers and wash out into the sea (see article). The plastic-waste problem will worsen before it gets better: some 380m tonnes of the stuff are likely to be made this year.... 

... Just as plastic is derived from petrochemicals, bitumen is produced as a by-product of refining oil. Both are polymers, which consist of long strands of molecules bound together firmly. It is this characteristic that makes plastic strong and contributes to its great longevity.... 

Recycled plastic is already used to make some products, such as guttering and sewage pipes.... On September 11th in Zwolle, a town in the Netherlands, a 30-metre bicycle track made from 70% recycled plastic and the rest from polypropylene was opened. It will be used to test a product called PlasticRoad, which is being developed by two Dutch firms—KWS, a road builder, and Wavin, a firm that makes plastic piping—in partnership with Total, a French oil-and-gas firm.
PlasticRoad is prefabricated in a factory as modular sections. The sections are then transported to the site and laid end to end on a suitable foundation, such as sand. Because these sections are hollow, internal channels can be incorporated into them for drainage, along with conduits for services such as gas and electricity.... These were fitted with sensors to measure things such as temperature, flexing and the flow of water through the drainage channels. A second pilot cycleway is being built in the nearby town of Giethoorn.

Smart roads, too
... Car parks and railway platforms could follow.... [Plastic road] could contain sensors for traffic monitoring. In time, the circuits in the plastic roads might extend to assisting autonomous vehicles and recharging electric cars wirelessly.

Prefabricated plastic roads should last two-to-three times longer than conventional roads and cost less, the companies claim, mainly because construction times would be reduced by almost two-thirds. Anti-slip surfaces could be incorporated...

An alternative method of using recycled plastic is to mix the material into hot bitumen when making asphalt. A road is about to be built this way on the campus of the University of California, San Diego, to test a number of specialist roadmaking plastics developed by MacRebur, a British firm. Each mix is produced from plastic that is not easily or cheaply recycled and so typically ends up in landfill....
The company’s plastic mixes have already been used in roads, car parks and airport runways in various parts of the world. One of the oldest projects is a stretch of road in Cumbria, in north-west Britain, which is extensively used by heavy lorries. This used to need resurfacing every six months or so, but with the addition of plastic it is still going strong after two years....

Cleaning and sorting plastic made out of multiple polymers can be relatively expensive, especially if it is used to make low-value products such as packaging. But using such plastic as a replacement for bitumen is cost-effective, claims Mr McCartney. As an example, he says that a tonne of bitumen might cost around £400 ($521) in Britain. A recycled-plastic additive for a standard road works out at £300-£350 a tonne. The additive would replace a proportion of the bitumen, so there are savings to be made. At present 5-10% of the bitumen is replaced by the additives, but this could be increased to 25%.
Australia is another country that is starting to recycle plastic into roads. Earlier this year a 300-metre stretch was completed in ... a suburb of Melbourne, using a substance called Plastiphalt.
Stuart Billing of Downer, a firm involved in constructing the road, said that the cost of using the recycled materials was comparable with building a road in the usual way. But the road is expected to last a lot longer and prove better at coping with heavy traffic.
The Economist Newspaper
September 13, 2018

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Testing for crowd out in social nudges: Evidence from a natural field experiment in the market for electricity

This study considers the response of household electricity consumption to social nudges during peak load events. Our investigation considers two social nudges. The first targets conservation during peak load events, while the second promotes aggregate conservation. Using data from a natural field experiment with 42,100 households, we find that both social nudges reduce peak load electricity consumption by 2 to 4% when implemented in isolation and by nearly 7% when implemented in combination. These findings suggest an important role for social nudges in the regulation of electricity markets and a limited role for crowd out effects.
The first nudge, which we call the peak energy report (PER), targets household electricity consumption during peak load events that periodically occur when demand for electricity is high. The closest analog to the PER that has been studied is the nudge examined in ref. 16, which utilizes moral suasion instead of social comparison to promote conservation during peak load events. Efforts to curb peak load feature prominently in energy policy because there generally is a mismatch between wholesale and retail prices within and across days in the energy sector, and moving consumption temporally can have large effects on emissions and social welfare (17⇓–19). Studies targeting peak load typically focus on the consequences of price changes (20⇓–22). The second nudge, the home energy report (HER), targets aggregate household electricity consumption and has been studied widely (23⇓⇓⇓⇓⇓–29).

Conducted in Southern California during the summer of 2014, the experiment randomly assigned 42,100 households to receive either no communications, the HER, the PER, or both the HER and PER. Combining information on treatment assignment with more than 30 million observations of hourly household electricity consumption, we identify the conservation effect of each social nudge in isolation and in combination.
We find that receipt of the PER causes a 3.8% reduction in electricity consumption during a peak load event and receipt of the HER causes a 2.1% reduction. When received in combination, the two social nudges cause households to reduce their electricity consumption by 6.8%. To put these effects into perspective, the price of electricity would have to be increased by nearly 70% during peak load events to achieve the electricity savings of receiving both the HER and PER. Experimental variation in the price of electricity during peak load events finds an own-price elasticity of −0.1 (16, 20⇓–22). Thus, to achieve the same reductions in consumption caused by the isolated effect of the HER and PER, prices during peak load events would have to be raised by 20 to 40%. To achieve the reductions caused by the combined effect of the HER and PER, electricity prices would have to be increased by nearly 70%. Furthermore, these findings suggest that the effect of the PER is not crowded out when households are already assigned to receive the HER. While we make no claim that these estimates will generalize across locations and domains, they provide evidence on the dynamics of nudging to achieve multiple policy targets in the market for electricity.
Fig. 6.
(A) We plot the differences in the log of electricity use between each treatment group and the control group on the 3 d with peak load events. (B) We compare the difference between the control group and the HER+PER group with the summation of the individual differences between the control group and the HER group and PER group. Vertical lines indicate the peak hours from 1300 to 1800 hours.
Fig. 7.
Average treatment effects during peak hours (1300–1800 hours) from a regression of log electricity use on treatment indicators and controls for each hour in the sample, the HER deployment wave, and the medium used to communicate the PER. We plot the total treatment effects on the 3 d with peak load events in the summer of 2014. Bar labels represent the point estimates, and we report corresponding SEs in parentheses. We also test the hypothesis of no crowd out by comparing the treatment effect of the HER+PER group and a summation of the treatment effects of the HER group and the PER group. We report the difference and corresponding SE.

  • by Alec Brandona
  • John A. Lista
  • Robert D. Metcalfeb,1
  • Michael K. Pricec, and 
  • Florian Rundhammerd

    1. aDepartment of Economics, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL 60637;
    2. bQuestrom School of Business, Boston University, Boston, MA 02215;
    3. cDepartment of Economics, Finance, and Legal Studies, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL 35487;
    4. dDepartment of Economics, Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA 30302
    Edited by Catherine L. Kling, Iowa State University, Ames, IA
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)
    PNAS published ahead of print August 13, 2018

    Saturday, September 8, 2018

    In 2015, peripheral devices consumed nearly as much electricity as televisions

    Results from EIA’s 2015 Residential Energy Consumption Survey (RECS) show that televisions and related peripheral devices—such as digital video recorders (DVRs), video game consoles, and streaming devices—consumed 7% of the electricity used in American homes in 2015 and cost $103 per home per year to operate. Peripheral device consumption accounted for slightly less than half of this electricity consumption, collectively using almost as much energy as televisions.

    average consumption of televisions and related equipment in U.S. homes

    The new RECS data also provide insights into the consumption of the most-used and second-most-used TV in a home. RECS asks respondents detailed questions about their two most-used televisions, such as how many hours they are turned on, the size of the display, and the type of screen. This information informs the models used to estimate television consumption.

    In homes with more than one TV, the most-used TV consumed more than twice as much electricity as the second-most used TV. In addition, energy consumption of the most-used TV was higher in homes that had more than one TV. In homes with more than one TV, the most-used TV tended to be larger and was turned on for more hours each day.

    The RECS end-use category of televisions and related equipment aggregates the electricity consumption of televisions—which are found in 97% of American homes—with the electricity consumption of seven types of peripheral devices. Many of these devices may perform multiple functions, such as cable or satellite boxes that include a DVR or video game consoles that can connect to internet streaming services.
    television peripherals in homes by device type
    Of the devices surveyed, DVD and Blu-ray players were the most common, present in 61% of homes. Cable or satellite boxes without DVR capabilities were the second-most common, found in half of all homes. Separate DVRs were the least common, present in only 7% of homes.

    The 2015 RECS was the first time the survey asked respondents about Internet streaming devices that allow users to view media from the Internet on their TV such as Roku and Apple TV; 29% of respondents reported having such a device. On average, homes with a television had a total of 3.9 peripheral devices, or 1.6 devices per TV.

    Although they may perform the same functions, some peripheral devices can be much more energy efficient than others. For instance, internet-enabled smart TVs are the most efficient way to stream media compared with streaming devices or game consoles being used for the same purpose, according to analysis by the Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR program.

    Televisions and peripheral devices often consume energy even when they are not in active use. They draw power in standby mode, allowing them to receive a signal from a remote control, perform recording functions, and maintain internet connection.

    ENERGY STAR-certified televisions are on average 27% more energy efficient than televisions that are not certified. Features such as highly efficient lighting technologies, default brightness settings less than the maximum, and automatic brightness control make televisions more energy efficient. One of the requirements to be ENERGY STAR-certified is that a television must consume 3 watts or less when in standby mode.

    You can find more information on household energy consumption and expenditures in the RECS data tables and microdata file.

    Principal contributor: Maggie Woodward
    September 6, 2018

    Friday, September 7, 2018

    Bold Climate Action Could Deliver US$26 Trillion to 2030, Finds Global Commission

    A ... report released by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate finds that we are significantly under-estimating the benefits of cleaner, climate-smart growth. Bold climate action could deliver at least US$26 trillion in economic benefits through to 2030, compared with business-as-usual.

    The Report finds that over the last decade there has been tremendous technological and market progress driving the shift to a new climate economy. There are real benefits to be seen in terms of new jobs, economic savings, competitiveness and market opportunities, and improved wellbeing for people worldwide. Momentum is building behind this shift by a wide range of cities, governments, businesses, investors and others around the world, but it is not yet fast enough.
    Unlocking the Inclusive Growth Story of the 21st Century is being presented to the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres ... at a global launch at UN headquarters in New York City. The report arrives just one week before the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco..
    The Report highlights opportunities in five key economic systems – energy, cities, food and land use, water, and industry. It demonstrates that ambitious action across these systems could deliver net economic gains compared with business-as-usual and:
    • Generate over 65 million new low-carbon jobs in 2030, equivalent to today's entire workforces of the UK and Egypt combined. 
    • Avoid over 700,000 premature deaths from air pollution in 2030. 
    • Generate, through just subsidy reform and carbon pricing, an estimated US$2.8 trillion in government revenues per year in 2030 - equivalent to the total GDP of India today - funds that can be used to invest in other public priorities or reduce distorting taxes. 

    “We can now see that this new growth story embodies very powerful dynamics: innovation, learning-by-doing, and economies of scale. Further, it offers us the very attractive combination of cities where we can move, breathe, and be productive; sustainable infrastructure that is not only clean and efficient, but also withstands increasingly frequent and severe climate extremes; and ecosystems that are more productive, robust, and resilient,” said Lord Nicholas Stern, I G Patel Professor of Economics and Government at the LSE and Co-Chair of the Global Commission. “Current economic models fail to capture both the powerful dynamics and the very attractive qualities of new technologies and structures. Thus we know we are grossly underestimating the benefits of this new growth story. And further, it becomes ever more clear that the risks of the damage from climate change are immense and tipping points and irreversibilities getting ever closer.”

    The Global Commission calls on governments, business, and finance leaders to urgently prioritise actions on four fronts over the next 2-3 years:
    • Ramp up efforts on carbon  pricing and move to mandatory disclosure of cliamte-related financial risks; 
    • Accelerate investment in sustainable infrastructure; 
    • Harness the power of the private sector and unleash innovation; and 
    • Build a people-centred approach that shares the gains equitably and ensures that the transition is just. 


    [Other highlights include:

    Smarter urban development: More compact, connected, and coordinated cities are worth up to US$17 trillion in economic savings by 2050[1] 2 and will stimulate economic growth by improving access to jobs and housing. They can strengthen resilience to physical climate risks and could deliver up to 3.7 gigatons per year of CO2e savings over the next 15 years, just shy of the total emissions of the European Union (EU) today.
    Sustainable land use: The shift to more sustainable forms of agriculture combined with strong forest protection could deliver over US$2 trillion per year of economic benefits; generate millions of jobs, mainly in the developing world; improve food security including by reducing food loss and waste (a third of all food produced is lost or wasted along the food chain); and deliver over a third of the climate change solution.7 At the same time, restoration of natural capital, especially our forests, degraded lands, and coastal zones, will strengthen our defences and boost adaptation to climate impacts, from more extreme weather patterns to sea-level rise.
    Wise water management: Today, 2.1 billion live without readily available, safe water supplies at home, and 4.5 billion live without safely managed sanitation.8 Water will also be where climate change impacts will be felt most keenly. Water scarce regions, notably the Middle East, the Sahel, Central Africa, and East Asia could see gross domestic product (GDP) declines of as much as 6% by 2050 as a result of climate change, spurring migration and sparking conflict.9 There are enormous opportunities to curb these impacts by using water better, whether though deployment of improved technology (from drip irrigation to remote sensors to water-efficient crops), planning and governance, use of water prices with targeted support to the poor, or by investing in public infrastructure. Today, poorly managed and often under-priced water results in the over-use and misallocation of resources across the economy. Addressing the water-energy-food nexus will be critical, particularly in increasingly water-stressed regions.
    A circular industrial economy: From 1970 to 2010, annual global extraction of materials grew from almost 22 to 70 billion tonnes.10 Each year, at least eight million tonnes of plastics leak into the ocean, contributing to a major new challenge for the 21st Century.11 Microplastics have been discovered in 114 aquatic species, many of which end up in our dinners.12 This challenge, however, is not just a social or environmental issue; it is also economic. Today, 95% of plastic packaging material value—as much as US$120 billion annually—is lost after first use.13 Policies which encourage more circular, efficient use of materials (especially metals, petrochemicals and construction materials) could enhance global economic activity, as well as reduce waste and pollution. Shifting to a circular industrial economy, combined with increasing efficiency and electrification, including for hard-to-abate sectors and heavy transport, could decouple economic growth from material use and drive decarbonisation of industrial activities.
    Jobs: The Report also finds that taking ambitious climate action could generate over 65 million new low-carbon jobs in 2030, equivalent to today’s entire workforces of the UK and Egypt combined, as well as avoid over 700,000 premature deaths from air pollution compared with business-as-usual.
    Subsidy reform and carbon pricing alone could generate an estimated US$2.8 trillion in government revenues per year in 2030 – more than the total GDP of India today – much needed funds that can be used to invest in public priorities.

    Wednesday, August 29, 2018

    Study highlights urgent need to tackle fisheries management and climate change together - More fish, food and income possible if nations act now on climate and sustainable management

    A new study by EDF and leading scientists shows that tackling sustainable fisheries management and climate change together can result in significant increases of food, fish and economic activity, but nations need to act quickly to realize these gains.

    The study details how the world’s oceans have the potential to be significantly more plentiful than today even with climate change, provided good management practices are put in place and warming is held to no more than 2 degrees Celsius, according to the first-of-its kind study published today in the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences’ (AAAS) journal, Science Advances.

    The study shows that compared to today, estimated future global outcomes include a $14 billion USD increase in profits, 25 billion additional servings of seafood and 217 million more metric tons of fish in the sea—nearly a third more fish than exist today—, if we can meet the imperative of the Paris Climate Accord and ensure global temperatures don’t rise beyond 2 degrees Celsius. The study cautions, however, that these results depend on implementing fisheries management that addresses climate-driven changes in species productivity and geographical range distribution as well as limiting warming from emissions to that level. Inaction on fisheries management and climate change will mean net losses of fish as the planet’s population grows.

    A dozen leading scientists from institutions including the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB), Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis and Hokkaido University conducted the research. It is the first study to examine future fishery outcomes under both climate change projections and alternative management approaches, and demonstrates that our oceans can be highly productive for decades to come if we act now to put effective management practices in place.

    Fig. 5 Difference in harvest and biomass under the Full Adaptation strategy in 2100 relative to today for RCP 6.0.
    The bubble size corresponds to current MSY, and the colors indicate fishery category based on current biomass and fishing mortality rate relative to BMSY and FMSY, respectively. The fishery categories are defined as follows: Healthy (F/FMSY < 1, B/BMSY ≥ 1), Emerging (F/FMSY ≥ 1, B/BMSY ≥ 1), Recovering (F/FMSY < 1, B/BMSY < 1), and Overfished (F/FMSY ≥ 1, B/BMSY < 1). A transparent bubble indicates a decrease in maximum sustainable yield in 2100 relative to today, whereas a solid bubble indicates an increase (see fig. S2 for results under the other RCPs). MT, metric tons.
    [By 2100, the study shows that compared to today, estimated future outcomes include 25 billion additional servings of seafood].