Sara is an architect who delved into distributed generation while developing fuel cell projects for Bloom Energy. She became interested in the energy industry in general, and specifically the regulatory and finance conditions that make markets more open to uptake of innovative technologies. While her focus is in energy, she is also interested in how other major infrastructure areas are similar and different with respect to technology uptake. Sara has a BA in Architecture from Berkeley.
China could use an expected boom in electric vehicles to stabilize a grid that depends heavily on wind and solar energy, officials from an influential Chinese government planning agency said Monday in Washington D.C.
“In the future we think the electricity vehicle could be the big contribution for power systems’ stability, reliability,” said Wang Zhongying, director of the China National Renewable Energy Center and deputy director general of the Energy Research Institute at China’s National Development and Reform Commission.
The Chinese do not see the cost of renewable energy as a significant obstacle to its widespread adoption, Wang told a lunchtime gathering at Resources for the Future, a non-partisan environmental research organization in the Capitol.
“The biggest challenge for renewable energy development is not economic issues, it is technical issues. Variability. Variability is the biggest issue for us,” said Wang, who explained variability like so: “When we have wind we have electricity; when we have sun we have electricity. No wind and no sun, no electricity.”
But if the Chinese deploy enough electric vehicles—which could mean up to five million new electric vehicles in Beijing alone—the array of distributed batteries could collect energy when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing and feed it back to the grid when the skies are dark and the air is still.
Wang directed a study released this week, the “China 2050 High Renewable Energy Penetration Scenario and Roadmap Study,” which plots a route for China to drastically reduce reliance on coal, derive 85 percent of electricity from renewables, and cut greenhouse gas emissions 60 percent by mid-century .
The study gets there by relying on what has become known as Vehicle-to-Grid technology, which has emerged as almost a surprise side effect of inexpensive solar panels and clean-energy policies in places like California and Germany.
The Chinese have been watching the same developments, the report reveals, as clean energy experts in the West like Daniel Kammen, who described unexpected effects of the solar-energy boom last week in an appearance at the University of Chicago.
“Now in places with the greenest energy policies, there is a huge peak in afternoon power on the grid, exactly where power used to be the most expensive and the dirtiest,” he said. “We actually want people to charge up now in the late afternoon. It sounds very chaotic, it’s not what we thought at all, but in fact it represents what low-cost solar is now bringing to many parts of the world.”
Electricity consumers can store this abundant afternoon energy until supply goes down and demand goes up and then sell it back to the grid. And if they own electric vehicles, they needn’t buy extra equipment to do so.
“You can put a big battery in the basement of your home or business, but you can also have your electric vehicle, with its mobile storage system that you drive around and use as your car. They’re called Nissan Leafs, they’re called Chevy Volts, they’re called Teslas, they’re called Priuses, they have a variety of names. And now you can sell power back to the grid.”
An electric car with a range of 250 km can store 40 kWh of electricity, Wang said. Five million of those cars could stabilize Beijing’s grid to counteract variations in wind and sun, he said, and the number of automobiles in Beijing is expected to blossom from six million now to 10 million by 2030.
If the range of electric cars doubles to 500 km, he added, they will store enough electricity that only two million will be needed.
The cost of electric vehicles—about $40,000 in China, according to Wang—remains a hurdle, but China may slash the price by subsidizing vehicle batteries.
China’s High Renewable Energy Roadmap resembles several U.S. Dept. of Energy studies that have plotted the route for the U.S. to reduce greenhouse gas emissions more than 80 percent by 2050.
The U.S. studies anticipate that solar and wind will provide half of U.S. power needs by 2050, using pumped hydro and compressed-air storage systems to offset variability.
Bulk battery systems were deemed too expensive to be viable, said Samuel Baldwin, chief science officer in DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, but the U.S. studies did not anticipate the “distributed storage” option offered by electric vehicles.
“I expect that battery storage like the Chinese study, with electric vehicles or stationary storage, is going to play a more important role,” Baldwin said.
It remains uncertain, however, how important a role it will play in China. The country’s first priority is economic development, said Li Junfeng, director general of China’s National Center for Climate Change Strategy and International Cooperation, also an arm of the National Development and Reform Commission.
By 2049, the centennial year of the People’s Republic of China, the Chinese want to achieve a standard of living comparable to the most developed countries.
“China wants to be among the developed countries by 2050,” Li said. “That’s the first priority.”
China’s High Renewable Energy Roadmap is a “visionary scenario,” according to Joanna Lewis, an associate professor of science, technology and international affairs at Georgetown University. But it remains to be seen whether China’s Politburu shares the vision of its National Development and Reform Commission.
“We hope our study can influence the government’s 13th five-year plan and 2050 energy strategy,” said Wang. “That’s very important.”
James Merrick’s research focuses on the improvement of mathematical modeling methods to address a variety of energy and climate planning problems. This talk will discuss this research, with an emphasis on how to structure models to provide economic and policy insight, focusing on appropriate valuation of renewables and energy storage options.
James completed his PhD in Management Science and Engineering at Stanford University in January 2018. He previously completed a dual masters degree in Technology & Policy and Electrical Engineering & Computer Science at MIT, and a Bachelor of Engineering degree at University College Dublin. Since completing his PhD, James applies his research to, and builds optimization models for, EPRI, a stealth robotics startup in San Francisco, and a major electricity generator in Ireland. In addition, James is undertaking a number of research projects with colleagues at NASA, EPRI, and Stanford and when possible, likes to help develop his family’s farm in Ireland.
Solar power is a quickly growing energy source in the United States, offering important financial benefits to households. However, a new study shows that many Americans lack access to solar power. The report published in Nature Sustainability by researchers from Tufts University and the University of California at Berkeley suggests that the reasons go beyond mere economics.
The presence of domestic solar panels has boomed across America, but predominantly in white neighborhoods, even after controlling for household incomes and levels of homeownership. The findings show that census areas with over 50% black or Hispanic populations have “significantly less” presence of domestic solar panel installations than other areas. This suggests that the solar industry is not serving all Americans equally.
The findings of the study demonstrate a significant racial disparity:
Hispanic-majority census tracts have installed 30% less rooftop solar than no-majority census tracts;
White-majority census tracts have installed 21% more rooftop solar than no-majority census tracts.
Solar Access As A Civil Right
Distributed solar refers to rooftop installations of photovoltaic (PV) panels, as opposed to large, centralized solar power stations. These installations offer a number of societal benefits; reducing carbon dioxide emissions and allowing individuals to generate their own power. With the addition of battery storage, these systems can also allow homes to retain power in the
Rooftop solar benefits the owner of the roof through a lower energy bill. While there are upfront installation costs, PV equipment typically pays for itself quickly, especially in those states with good financing options and where homeowners can sell excess electricity back to the grid.
The cost of installation is prohibitive for many homeowners, and owners of rental properties tend not to invest in PV because they may be unable to realize any financial benefit (it’s the renters who would get a lower electric bill). Many places, including parts of the US, have programs aimed at lowering the financial barriers to distributed solar. But what if there are other barriers?
Financial aid programs alone won’t help if money isn’t the only problem. The costs of climate change already weigh heavier on disenfranchised groups. If the benefits of PV ownership are also less available to people of color, then that only compounds the injustice.
Lead author of the paper, and Tufts University Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Deborah Sunter, who recently attended the COP24 climate summit in Poland, commented that, “Solar power is critical to meeting the climate goals presented by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, but we can and need to deploy solar so that it benefits all people, regardless of race and ethnicity.”
The researchers set out to discover whether members of racial and ethnic minorities experience barriers to PV ownership other than price. They used census data to identify the racial make-up up of individual census tracts, and combined those data with high-resolution maps to determine which tracts had more rooftop solar.
The researchers controlled for variations in solar intensity, financial incentives, and other factors that could influence PV installation besides race, such as household income and home ownership. What came of the analysis was a clear connection between race and ethnicity on the one hand and PV adoption on the other. Census tracts with a black or Latino majority consistently have less PV than otherwise similar tracts with no clear majority. And majority-white tracts had more PV than those without a majority. In majority-Asian tracts, the disparity was less apparent, but still present.
So, the big question becomes “why?”
The Color Of Energy
The study did not address how race and ethnicity influence PV adoption, and its authors can provide no definitive explanation - but they do offer several possibilities.
In general, “seeding” speeds PV adoption: if one person gets rooftop solar, other people in the same neighborhood are likely to follow suit. The authors note that many more tracts with a non-white majority lacked even one house with solar, suggesting that part of the problem is that seeding isn’t happening. A small difference in the likelihood of someone getting that first rooftop panel may translate in a huge difference in the total number of panels installed. This is corroborated by a previous study by Yale University, that found the most important factor influencing solar adoption was installations on neighboring households.
The authors also note that people of color are not well-represented in the solar industry, especially at the management level . Perhaps that lack of representation leads to poorer service to black or Latino neighborhoods - in a 2016 survey just 6.6% of solar industry workers were found to be African-American.
Closing The Gap
One of the study’s authors, Berkeley’s Dr. Dan Kammen, states that he finds the results “depressing”, but also “a clear sign that we can do things differently and more equitably.” He considers it likely that the problem is “an effect of more solar installers and more seed programs in more advantaged areas,” and suggests solar education and financing targeted specifically to low-income communities and people of color as part of the Green New Deal.
Kammen continues to say that seeding “could be reversed by targeting solar and other technology education and sales programs in ways that work for low-income communities. Solar is an up-front cost, so we need efforts like the Green New Deal to make solar education and financing available, such as is done by groups like Grid Alternatives that train, work to finance, and to integrate solar and energy efficiency to make it a least cost, most secure energy option for disadvantaged communities.”
Dr Kammen was previously appointed Science Envoy by the US State Department and made headlines when his letter of resignation went viral in August 2017 citing his concerns around the President Trump's failure to denounce white supremacists and neo-nazis. He remains an outspoken champion of sustainable energy production and environmental justice.
The authors of the study emphasize that the racial gap in solar adoption is a form of injustice since it denies many people real financial benefits. They also suggest that, without intervention, the gap is likely to grow. Awareness of the racial and ethnic dimension of the inequality of access is the first step and should direct education and financing programs that can address the disparity and bring distributed solar to all.
Daniel Kammen, Professor of Energy at the University of California, Berkeley, will present, "An Energy Plan the Earth Can Live With," at 4 p.m. Monday, May 7, in Guyot Hall, Room 10.
Kammen is the eighth and final speaker in the Challenges in Environmental Sciences Seminar (CHESS) Series organized by PEI in cooperation with campus partners.
Kammen will look in overview at clean-energy projects at scales from off-grid solar-energy systems to mini-grids and decarbonization efforts in the United States, China, Nicaragua, Kenya and Southeast Asia. He will review a number of specific areas of energy-system innovation, including in energy storage and information management systems for mini-grid operation. He will examine how analytic and practical field-based efforts both decarbonize communities across scales and establish frameworks to meet the Paris climate accord.
Kammen was appointed the first Environment and Climate Partnership for the Americas Fellow by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton in April 2010.
Kammen has served as a contributing or coordinating lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change since 1999. Th IPCC shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.
From 2010-2011, he was the World Bank Group's chief technical specialist for renewable energy and energy efficiency, in which he helped enhance renewable-energy and energy-efficiency activities and expand the institution's role in promoting cleaner, more sustainable energy.
Before joining UC-Berkeley, Kammen was an assistant professor of public and international affairs at Princeton, as well as director of the Program in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy (STEP) and PEI associated faculty. He received his doctorate in physics from Harvard University in 1988.
Dr. Daniel M. Kammen, Professor of Energy at the University of California, Berkeley, Director of Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL) and Chair in the Energy and Resources Group (ERG) and doctoral student Samira Siddiqui, also of the Subir and Malini Chowdhury Center for Bangladesh Studies at UC Berkeley came to North South University on the 18th of February, 2018 to talk on “Profitably Powering the Clean Energy Economy”. This event was organized by the Office of External Affairs and facilitated by NSU HR Club. He informed the audience members on Bangladesh’s changing energy landscape—electricity for all by 2021, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and insufficient power supply of the rapidly growing demand for electricity. Dr. Kammen also showcased Bangladesh’s remarkable success in Solar Home System (SHS). When most countries were skeptic of solar energy system, Bangladesh became one of the pioneers to start this new program. He informed that Bangladesh, just starting from 2003, has the largest off-the-grid program in the world.
The 4.5 million SHS installed as of July 2017 are generating over 200MW of electricity. To illustrate the current situation of the energy/fuel system, Dr. Kammen used the analogy of the horse race where energies from solar and wind are going neck and neck and other forms of energy such as nuclear, water, coal are lagging behind. Then he informed that, the concept of energy storage was not even an option 15 years ago. It was when China started mass producing solar panels that the prices dropped significantly and people started relying on solar energy. Like a dark horse, SHS is sweeping in and winning the race for clean energy economy. Dr. Kammen stressed that Bangladesh has an ample amount of clean energy resources from which a profitable and empowering economy can be built.
Dr. Kammen is an expert in his field having authored/co-authored 12 books, written more than 300 peer-reviewed journal publications and contributing to Nobel prizewinning climate work with the professors at University of California, Berkeley. For his valuable words and time, Dr. Kammen was presented with a bouquet of flowers by the Director of External Affairs, Dr. Katherine Li and a crest by the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Atiqul Islam as tokens of appreciation from NSU.