Monday, February 18, 2013

The 25 by ’25 Renewable Energy Initiative for New Hampshire – Can We Do It? – Part 2

In my last post, I wrote that about 15% of our in-state energy use in 2010 came from renewable energy resources and that we are making progress towards reaching the goal of getting 25% of our energy needs from renewable energy by 2025 – the 25 x '25 goal. However, I also showed that our progress towards this goal has been on the back of reduced overall energy consumption rather than increased amounts of renewable energy.
This week I want to take a look at what it will take for us to achieve the 25 x '25 goal. We can achieve it in one of three ways. We can:
A) Increase the amount of renewable energy we generate and consume in-state.
B) Decrease our in-state energy consumption so that the existing base of  renewable energy becomes a larger fraction of our total energy supply.     
C) Simultaneously increase the amount of renewable energy we generate and reduce our overall statewide consumption of energy.

Before considering these options, it is worth taking a look at the direct use of energy in the state. Below are two pie charts. The one on the left shows the split for in-state energy usage - the net energy usage described in my previous post. I have simplified the available data by rolling residential, commercial and industrial use into a single category of "Buildings". As can be seen, the allocation for in-state direct energy use is 37% electricity, 36% transportation and 27% buildings. The second pie chart to the right shows the renewable energy components of these three main sectors in green. Relatively small proportions of the transportation sector and building sectors utilize renewable energy, 5 and 7%, respectively. However, for in-state electricity production (and as noted in my last post - grabbing all the green electrons for ourselves), we can see that a significant fraction, 29%, comes from renewable resources.

Let's take a look at Option A – increasing the amount of renewable energy. My previous post calculated that our in-state energy consumption (using 2010 data from the Energy information Agency) was 295 trillion BTUs. If we assume that our in-state energy consumption remains steady at this level, we would need to increase the renewable energy amount to 74 trillion BTUs. We are presently at 43 trillion BTUs from renewables so we would need to increase this amount by 31 trillion BTUs. We could do this by increasing renewable usage in each of the three main sectors but it is unlikely that this will happen in the transportation sector. We are already at 10% corn ethanol in our gasoline and this is unlikely to increase in the near future. Wood pellet-fueled transportation is unlikely to ever be practical. We could achieve the 31 trillion BTUs of new renewable energy by converting 60% of the present oil-fired building heat in the state to biomass in the form of wood pellets. My concern would be the sustainability of this approach. Can NH forests support this amount of biomass utilization? I suspect a statewide switchover to biomass heating is unlikely to happen in the next 12 years. Instead we will continue the slow substitution of oil furnaces by wood pellet burners that is presently underway. As long as oil prices continue to be high, this changeover will continue, homeowner by homeowner.

The only area where we could see a substantial increase in the amount of renewable energy is in the generation of electricity. However the additional 31 trillion BTUs would be equivalent to 135 25 MW wind plants, like the one in Lempster, or 80 15 MW wood-burning plants, like the one in Bethlehem, or 780 10 MW solar photovoltaic farms, each of which would require 100 acres of cleared land. This level of investment and approval of projects seems highly unlikely if not downright impossible. Based on last week's news of the rejection of the Antrim wind project by the NH Site Evaluation Committee, it is clear that the folks of New Hampshire do not want this level of impact on their environment.
In the "what's he been smoking" category of ideas, consider this one. If the Northern Pass project goes through, we could claim all those green hydroelectric electrons from Hydro Quebec for ourselves for our renewable energy accounting purposes. Even though the energy is intended for the rest of New England, they are nice juicy green electrons, they are coming through New Hampshire and they are being converted from DC to AC in Franklin, NH. Is it so unreasonable to claim those green Canadian electrons for our renewable energy goals? In that case, we could meet our renewable goal as the Northern Pass project should bring in the equivalent of 32 trillion BTU of energy, if not more.

Crazy ideas aside, that brings us to Option B - decreasing our in-state energy consumption. To achieve this, we will need to tackle the topic of energy waste. As noted in previous blogs, we waste an inordinate amount of energy. In the pie charts below I again show the in-state split of energy in the three main categories of transportation, electricity and buildings: to the right I show the proportions of energy losses, in grey, for each of the three categories.

Overall, our energy losses are 60% of total in-state energy use (the sum of the grey slices above) and this would appear to be a fine place to direct our efforts. However, as noted in a previous post, we need to be realistic about these losses. We can never totally eliminate them due to the nature of energy, materials, electricity and the laws of physics. Nevertheless, there is a lot we can do to reduce our energy losses. Examples abound and I cannot do justice to them in this blog, but they include reducing transportation losses through higher MPG vehicles, improving the efficiency of building heating and HVAC systems, as well as improving the efficiency of electricity generation and transmission operations through new, higher efficiency power plants, equipment upgrades and even the utilization of wasted byproduct heat in district heating applications. Of course, we cannot overlook the fact that energy usage can be reduced by better insulation of our buildings, which, in turn, reduces the buildings slice.
It is clear that there is lot we can do in the reduction of waste and energy usage category and we should continue our efforts in these areas but we need to be rather sober minded about where this gets us. To achieve the 25% by 2025 renewable energy goal we would need to reduce in-state energy consumption by 174 trillion BTU, assuming little change in the present level of renewables, or by 60% (!) of our present usage. To put this into context, bear in mind that we have only reduced our energy consumption by 9% over the 2005 to 2010 six-year period. Frankly and pragmatically speaking, a 60% reduction in our energy usage is unlikely to happen in the next 12 years.
Perhaps we can consider Option C, which involves a combination of increased amounts of renewable energy and reductions in energy consumption and losses. In many respects this is the road we are presently on, with the slow introduction (and even slower approval) of wind projects and the gradual substitution of wood for oil in building heating applications as well as the usage reductions I noted in my previous blog. However, even a 20% increase in renewable energy will require us to reduce energy consumption by 50% to reach 25% renewable energy by 2025. It will take enormous amounts of money, political will, bipartisan agreement, coordinated effort, and goodwill - as well as an updated State energy plan to achieve this. All of these factors are in short supply – the State energy plan is dated "2002". My opinion is that the 25 by '25 goal has little chance of being achieved. I simply don't see it happening. Maybe we need to rethink our goal - perhaps we can achieve 25% by 2050 or 20% by 2035.
Or am I wrong? What do you think? And what about those green Canadian electrons - should we count them?

Until next time, remember to turn off those lights when you leave the room.

Mike Mooiman
Franklin Pierce University


Monday, February 11, 2013

The 25 by ’25 Renewable Energy Initiative for New Hampshire – Can We Do It? - Part 1

With a new governor in place, I have been giving some thought to the initiative enacted by Governor Lynch in 2007 that New Hampshire should aim to get 25% of its energy from renewable resources by 2025 – the so-called 25 x '25 initiative. With my recent posts on renewable sources and their contribution to the NH energy supply, I was wondering how we are doing and if we are making progress towards the 25 x '25 goal. Until a few years ago, the New Hampshire Office of Energy and Planning, OEP, had been calculating and recording our progress, but they have not updated their information in a while. The last available numbers were for 2008 so in the next few posts I will be presenting updates of the OEP numbers and will be taking a closer look at the feasibility of the 25 x '25 goal and what it will take to achieve it.  

The goal is 25% renewable energy by 2025 but we need to start off by asking the question: "25% of what?" According to the OEP, the "what" is net energy usage. Net energy use refers to the energy we use in-state and excludes that associated with any energy exports. In our case, we export 51% of our produced electricity, so we need to subtract the energy used to produce this exported electricity from the gross, or overall, energy usage by NH to generate the net energy number.

All my blog posts and previous calculations, to this point, have referred to overall energy use by New Hampshire, so for net energy usage we need to reduce the 409 trillion BTU overall usage by the 113 trillion BTU used to produce exported electricity, leaving us with a new number: 296 trillion BTU. This is our net energy usage for New Hampshire for 2010 and will be the basis for the calculations and discussion for the next few blogs.

With the net in-state energy usage in hand and using the renewable energy numbers from previous blogs, we should be ready to calculate the percentage of renewable energy. Ah, if only it were so straightforward. Instead, we now face an intriguing dilemma: this revolves around how we look at that exported energy (electricity exports plus the energy waste associated with its production). The electricity produced in NH comes from renewable and non-renewable sources and even though the electrons involved in electricity flow from these sources are indistinguishable, we can view our produced electricity as a blend of green electrons (those from renewable energy) and brown electrons (those from fossil fuels and nuclear). So, when we export electricity are we exporting just brown electrons or a blend of green and brown electrons? As I have noted the electrons are indistinguishable, so we are, in essence, just playing an accounting game but this is an important game with important consequences. If we take the position that exported electricity is indeed a blend of green and brown electrons then we need a commensurate reduction in the amount of renewable energy we can claim for in-state use. Specifically: we export 51% of electricity production, so we need to reduce the renewable fraction that goes into electricity production by 51%. This significantly reduces the amount of renewable energy we can claim. On the other hand, if we take the position that we use all the green electrons in-state, then we can claim all that renewable energy that goes into electricity production.

Which is the correct answer? Well, the OEP sidesteps the issue of the correct answer by calculating the percent of renewable energy data for both scenarios. In my calculations, I adopted that same convention by performing calculations for both scenarios as well. The results of my calculations for 2010 are shown in the following table. I have used headings and formats similar to the OEP results to make for direct comparison. However, it should be noted that my methodology is a little different from that of the OEP as I have used the NH data and energy accounting approach from the Energy Information Agency, EIA, exclusively and I do not include imported electricity in accounting for renewables - even though it might be from hydroelectric operations in Canada.

At first glance, the results are not encouraging. Even if we lay claim to all the green electrons for in-state use, Option 1, we are at 14.7% renewable energy with 13 years to go. The situation is even worse if we calculate on the basis that we are exporting a blend of green and brown electrons, Option 2. In this case, we are only at 9.1% renewable energy. However, this still begs the question – which is the correct number? Well, it depends on who is playing the game and making the rules. Nevertheless, my vote is for the higher number, the one comes from grabbing all of the green electrons for ourselves. The basis of my choice that the calculation is simpler to perform, and this is an extraordinarily complex scientific reason - it is a larger number - which makes the 25% easier to achieve!

Feeling somewhat gloomy about where we presently stand, I wanted to see if we were, in fact, making progress since the 2007 start of the 25 x '25 initiative. If we were - and it was rapid progress – it would certainly be encouraging. I therefore went back a few years to calculate the percent renewable data for both options which I have presented in the chart below. I have included the earlier OEP numbers (shown as red X's) in the chart below and even though, as noted earlier, my methodology is somewhat different from that of the OEP, the agreement between the two data sets is good.

Since the start of the initiative in 2007, we have, using Option 1, gone from about 12% to almost 15% renewable energy which is commendable progress over the past 3 years. (With Option 2, we have only gone from 7.5 to 9.1% which is not as commendable and therefore, for the "complex" scientific reasons noted above, we will ignore it going forward.) At this rate – about a 1% increase per year – reaching 25% by 2025 looks achievable, which is rather encouraging. However, while we are basking in the warm glow of our collective achievement, let's take a closer look at the two sets of data that generated this chart. Specifically, let's examine net energy usage and renewable energy production in NH separately, which I have done in the bar chart below.

A closer review of this data reveals that most of the change in the renewable energy fraction has occurred as a result of the reduction in the in-state energy consumption over the past few years. We have gone from 325 trillion BTU in 2005 to 295  trillion BTU in 2010 – an impressive 9% decrease in 5 years (an annual compounded decrease of 1.9%) but, and this is rather crucial, an examination of the renewable data shows that there has been little change in the amount of renewable energy we produce in-state. As a result, we need to conclude that our progress toward the 25% renewable energy goal to date has been on the back of energy savings - and not from increased renewable energy.

Going forward, can we continue to rely on further energy savings to get us to 25% and how realistic is this? It also requires us to ask the question – where are these energy savings coming from – are they the result of a general economic slowdown in the state accelerated by the Great Recession, high energy prices, a shrinking population, the success of energy savings programs, or some other reason? This is certainly worth closer examination and I would be interested in your opinion. For the moment, and for an energy savings geek such as myself, regardless of the reason these energy reductions are positive and are certainly propelling us towards our goal. But we should stop here and ask ourselves - are they sustainable? In my next post, I will look at how net energy usage is allocated in the state and what we need to do in terms of more energy savings and/or renewable energy increases to achieve the 25 x '25 goal. It might be more difficult than we think.

Until next time, remember to turn off those lights when you leave the room.

Mike Mooiman
Franklin Pierce University


Monday, February 4, 2013

Renewable Energy in New Hampshire – Part 2

In my last post, we took a first look at the renewable energy portfolio for New Hampshire and we examined the pie chart below.

In this post, I am going to step back in time and see what progress we have made in the last 50 years. The figure below shows what we have achieved in terms of renewable energy.

 It is clear we have made progress on the renewables front. Since 1960 we have gone from 26 trillion BTU to 43 trillion BTU from renewable energy sources in 2009 – a 65% increase. However, for the last fifty years, hydroelectric and wood have been the largest components of the renewable energy supply. In fact, from 1960 to 2000 they were the only relevant components and most of the renewable energy increases were done on the back of increased wood burning. It was only in the 21st century,  with federal mandates for ethanol in gasoline, that ethanol began to feature. Technological advances and federal subsidies have helped spur advances in wind energy and it is now beginning to feature, albeit to a limited degree, in the NH's renewable energy equation. What is intriguing to me is that, in 1990, there seemed to be a significant surge in renewable energy, particularly from hydroelectric generation. A closer examination of data indicated that this was a one-year surge only and, in the years before and after 1990, the numbers were more in line with the longer term averages. The reasons for this one-year surge are most likely due a year of high rainfall which filled up dams and rivers, that, in turn, led to the generation of larger than usual amounts of hydroelectric energy. According to the National Climate Data Center, 1990 was indeed a high rainfall year in New Hampshire. In a future post on hydroelectric power in NH we will be taking a look at the correlation of rainfall and hydropower.

Except for the addition of ethanol into the renewables mix and a tiny bit of wind energy, it is my assessment that we have not made much progress, at least on the large statewide scale, in terms of renewable energy generation and, to be frank, considering our overall energy requirements, there is not a whole lot we can do.

For the moment, cheap natural gas has hammered at the viability of almost all other modes of generating electricity, including coal, nuclear and wood, but, interestingly, there has been the statewide growth of use of wood pellet-based heat for homes, schools and commercial operations where wood offers a competitive advantage over oil. The limited infiltration of natural gas supply into NH has made wood even more competitive in most communities.

Large-scale solar here in New Hampshire is unlikely to be competitive in the near term. More wind plants will make some difference: again this will be a relatively small fraction of our renewable energy. Permitting and local approval are challenging and I am not sure if we want to plant wind turbines on every available hill and ridge in NH. Hydroelectric power is a good energy source, especially here in the Northeast where water is plentiful, but frankly I do not believe there is the appetite for developing more large-scale hydroelectric operations. They inundate large swaths of land and, if wind farm opposition is anything to go by, establishing a hydro facility to drown thousands of acres of land is simply not going to happen.

What is more likely to happen is the continuation of the small-scale fuel switching from oil to wood and the slow roll-out of small-scale residential and commercial solar photovoltaic devices. Photovoltaic panels, while perhaps not the best investment (demand reduction is a better way to go), are becoming more affordable and downright fashionable.

This is a good place to circle back to the point I made two weeks ago. Yes, renewables are important, but what is more valuable is reducing the 65% of energy we waste. Our focus should be improving energy efficiency and reducing our energy demand. As we reduce our demand, we can ratchet back our need for fossil fuels and then renewables will, by default, become a more prominent proportion of our energy portfolio. If I were to be investing State dollars on energy programs in the State, I would be investing the large part of our time and money in demand reduction rather than in renewable energy sources. That is, at least, the opinion of this writer. Let me know what you think we should be doing?

Until next time, remember to turn off those lights when you leave the room.
Mike Mooiman
Franklin Pierce University