New England Energy Grid Faces More Challenges

Posted by Ed Burke on Aug 30, 2018 1:52:00 PM

Mystic Power Plant

New England has some of the highest utility rates in the country, and a fuel-constrained infrastructure. Now the area is again looking at potentially losing two major energy sources simultaneously. 

The Mystic Generating Station in Everett announced a full shutdown as of 2022. If Mystic closes, the LNG import terminal in Everett would lose its largest customer, which would jeopardize the terminal's ability to stay operational. The result of the terminal closing in tandem with the generation station means the region would be at risk for rolling blackouts during the winter months.This is obviously a huge safety concern for residents. 

The regions energy infrastructure is complicated, and the path forward looks complicated as well. As any resident of Mass can attest, there has been a lot of back and forth regarding the shuttering of older plants, which has its pro's and cons (Brayton Point, and Pilgrim being recent examples). There has concurrently been much back and forth on the merits and drawbacks of added pipeline capacity for natural gas, looking at nuclear options, and so on. 

I wrote an article for Oil & Energy detailing some of the issues surrounding the potential Mystic & LNG terminal closures, and what its looking like the path forward may be depending on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's rulings, etc. You can read the article here:  New England Grid Needs Broader Market Changes to Address Fuel Security 

 

 

Fun fact: Photo featured is of the Mystic Generation Station taken about a mile from our old HQ in Chelsea, MA by an employee 

 

 

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Topics: Energy Infrastructure, Utility Rates

Year Round E15 & RFS Waivers on the Energy Agenda

Posted by Ed Burke on Aug 8, 2018 1:24:00 PM

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Low commodity prices, plummeting RIN values, and talk of potential trade wars are all factors hitting the US Agricultural Sector hard this year.

Some of the avenues being discussed to provide relief are: allowing year round E15 sales, looking into the impact that RFS waivers for small refiners may have had, and making the process for submitting and granting waivers much more streamlined with the goal of stabilizing RIN prices. 

E15 sales are currently prohibited from June 1 through September 15 because of RVP regulations (much like "summer" and "winter" conventional gas changes those of us from the Northeast are familiar with in Maine). E15, unlike E10, does not have a low enough RVP rating to meet the criteria for year round sale. 

The White House had proposed changing the E15 regulation in June, but postponed. It currently looks like the change will take place sometime before next summer. 

I wrote an article for Oil & Energy Magazine that goes into some more of the details on E15, the impacts we might expect, and how viable it will be in the market. You can read that article here:  Year-Round E15 and Small Refinery Waivers

 

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Topics: Ethanol, RINs, RFS

EPA Finalizes 2018 RFS Volume,Declines Obligated Party Change Proposal

Posted by Ed Burke on Dec 1, 2017 5:22:05 PM

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Yesterday (November 30th) the EPA finalized renewable volume obligations for the RFS for 2018 and the RVO levels for 2019.

Final 2018 levels are 19.29 billion gallons of total renewable fuel, 15 billion of which is conventional biofuel and 4.29 billion of which is advanced biofuels, including cellulosic ethanol. The final volumes are actually very close to those proposed in July.

Additionally, the EPA has finally issued a ruling regarding the obligated party petition. The petition has been pending while the agency sifted through comments from relevant parties on all sides of the issue.

You may recall that starting around June of 2016 some major refiners & other parties petitioned the EPA to redefine obligated parties under the RFS. The obligated party under the RFS as enacted is ““the entity that holds title to the gasoline or diesel fuel, immediately prior to the sale from the bulk transfer/terminal system… to a wholesaler, retailer or ultimate consumer.” 

So basically refiners, blenders, and importers are the obligated parties in handling RIN compliance. The argument is that smaller marketers and blenders are subject to compliance costs and purchasing RIN credits in an arena where large refiners have an advantage, and non-blenders (retailers) have no exposure.  

Supporters of changing the obligated party claim that the change would enable the market to more readily respond to the annual renewable volume obligation (RVO) standards, begin to address the structural constraints that EPA identified in its 2015 RFS rulemaking, and eliminate barriers that prevent RIN value from being passed through to consumers.

On the other side of things, retailers & related groups argue that non-manufacturers have no control over the composition of the petroleum products with which renewable fuels must be blended in order to be sold as motor fuels. Manufacturers and importers not only have control over the composition of the products they sell, but also the terms under which they sell them, and thus should remain the obligated parties.

The EPA ultimately denied the proposed change in obligated parties. Their reasoning stated was that the change would not result in improved effectiveness of the RFS as a whole, and would similarly not provide remedy to the major issue within the standard, which remains the issue of cellulosic ethanol and its (lack of) use. There would also be a lack of uniformity in who would be a stake holding and thus obligated party, which the agency felt would result in more confusion with compliance, rather than less.

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Topics: EPA, EPA Mandate, RFS, Biofuels, Cellulosic Ethanol, RINs

Tesla Model 3 Deliveries Deliver on Promised Features

Posted by Ed Burke on Sep 15, 2017 2:03:00 PM

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This August, Tesla employees receieved the first deliveries of the much anticipated Tesla Model 3. By all accounts, the Model 3 was met with fully positive feedback upon test driving. If you recall, the Model 3 got half a million pre production money down "reservation" orders in the absence of a test drive or really any standard marketing campaign in place. (For a refresher on the Model 3 debut, read this: Tesla's Model 3 Debut Stuns Industry)

The Model 3 starts at $35,000 but most reviewing is based off the $44,000 level model including the $5000 premium package add on, as this is the model currently available now (the "standard" Model 3 will be available in November) 

The number of EV Charging Stations in the US that are part of Tesla's "supercharger" network will increase by a projected 6500 by the end of 2017. It will be interesting to see how the EV station network expands with the increase in demand for electric vehicles we're seeing with options like the Model 3, new Chevy Volt, and the Nissan Leaf, which are all more readily available to the average consumer than the high end Tesla's and other models. 

I wrote an article for the September issue of Oil & Energy Magazine regarding the Model 3 - you can read it in full here: Tesla's Model 3 - Definitely Innovative

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Topics: tesla, EV Charger, electric vehicles

Air Conditioning Goes Global - but Environmental Cost Could Be High

Posted by Ed Burke on Aug 15, 2017 9:05:00 AM

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Air conditioning is the new big thing globally. The huge increase in demand and the pace at which it is occuring, particularly in countries that are relatively rural with less reliable electricity, is bringing air conditioning to the forefront as a huge environmental concern that was essentially overlooked historically.

We tend to think of air conditioning as a sort of add on luxury item, but clearly the demand growth indicates it is becoming more and more of a standard item globally. We need to seriously look at how we approach making it a less energy intensive and environmentally destructive product. 

The issue with air conditioning, in terms of environmental impact, that is of particular concern (in addition to the huge energy usage and carbon emissions) is that older air conditioners are dependent on hydroflourocarbons (HFCs). HFCs are used as refrigerants and have hundreds of thousands of the heat trapping power of CO2. HFCs account for only 1-2% of warming currently, however, given their use in air conditioning and the increasing demand, projections put HFC contributions to emissions at up to 19% should their use continue unchecked. 

So what do we do?

As we discussed before, the Montreal Protocols were the critical factor in the global community moving away from CFCs, and there has been a demonstable effect on the ozone as a result of action on those protocols. The protocols replaced CFCs with HFCs - now we move into the second phase of the process, where HFCs also get phased out. 

I wrote an article for the August issue of Oil & Energy Magazine that details what the increasing AC demand looks like and goes into more of the process involved with the Kigali Amendment, Montreal Protocols, and the effect taking those actions is expected to have on the pace of Climate Change. You can read the full article here: Bringing Air Conditioning to Developing Countries

 

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Topics: Oil & Energy Magazine, Air conditioning, HFCs, Montreal Protocol, Kigali Amendment, climate change, carbon emissions

Turning CO2 & Sunshine into Fuel: The Bionic Leaf

Posted by Ed Burke on Jul 25, 2017 10:39:59 AM

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"Bill Gates has said that to solve our energy problems, someday we need to do what photosynthesis does, and that someday we might be able to do it even more efficiently than plants...That someday has arrived" - David Nocera, Harvard University

David Nocera & his colleague Pamela Silver, professors of energy science, biochemistry & systems biology (respectively) have co-created a system that combines H20 splitting solar energy and hydrogen-eating bacteria to essentially produce liquid fuel from sunlight, carbon dioxide and water. 

The "Bionic Leaf" (version 2.0) is a cutting edge hybrid approach to artificial photosynthesis that can convert solar energy to biomass at an efficiency rate of about 10% using pure CO2 and 3-4% using air, which believe it or not, far surpasses "real" photosynthesis. ("Real" or plant based photosynthesis generates about 1% return of carbohydrates from solar energy in efficient plants)

Generally speaking, artificial photosynthesis seeks to use solar energy, water, and carbon dioxide to produce energy dense liquid fuels in the same way that plants use the same elements to produce energy. The process has the potential to be carbon neutral, which is a huge upside, environmentally speaking. Pretty exciting stuff!

I did an article for Oil & Energy Magazine this month that deals with the Bionic Leaf & Artificial Photosynthesis, if you want a little more on the chemistry and details involved you can read that article here: "Bionic Leaf Turns Sunshine, Water and CO2 into Liquid Fuel" 

 

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Topics: bionic leaf, Solar Energy, carbon emissions, Oil & Energy Magazine

Clean Power Plan Rollback - Serious Issue or Symbolism?

Posted by Ed Burke on May 31, 2017 10:25:38 AM

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This March, President Trump signed an executive order to potentially roll back the Clean Power Plan, as part of a broader order regarding Energy Production & Independence in the US. The order directs the EPA to review the ruling and make a determination on whether to "rescind, repeal, or revise".

The basis of the order is the idea that the regulations hinder US energy production and have a job limiting effect. The administration has posited that the Clean Power Plan is an overstep by governmental regulating bodies, particularly the EPA, and is a part of the "War on Coal" that they promised to stop during the campaign season. 

The order does not detail what replacement protocol would be in place, or what impact the change or repeal of the Clean Power Plan would have on the Paris accords, the global agreement that essentially rests on the CPP being in effect in the United States (Refresher on that here: Senate Strikes Down Clean Power Provisions Ahead of Climate Change Summit

The Clean Power Plan, as put forth by the Obama Administration, would require States to limit carbon emissions from power plants by 32% of 2005 levels over 25 years. Initially, the 2014 drafts indicated much of the reduction would be achieved by a switch to natural gas (from coal and other carbon intensive sources) but the finalized 2015 version indicated most of the reduction would be achieved by moving to solar, wind, etc. (For details and a refresher on the power plant portion of the Clean Power Plan and the industry criticisms of it, particularly the renewable versus nat gas portions, you can read this article: "Obama, EPA announce First Ever Federal Regulations on Power Plant Emissions")

An interesting wrinkle to the entire debate raging over the CPP & the new Executive Order is that the Clean Power Plan is actually not currently in effect, officially anyways. The Plan is held up while pending lawsuits in many states, who have refused to comply with the plan details until the litigation is settled. 

However, be that as it may, many States are addressing carbon regulation concerns themselves, joining states like California and basically the entire Northeast Region in handling in-house (For example, this article in Fast Company regarding the steps being taken by Virginia's governor, among others:"Obama's Clean Power Plan might be dead in DC, but States are rebuilding it themselves" 

In addition to States handling much of the issues in contention themselves, according to the State of Electric Utility Survey for 2017, when the folks who handle energy mixes for power plants were asked what the future of their energy production looked like, less than 4% of respondents indicated they anticipated adding more coal to their energy mix, with 52% predicting their coal usage would plummet. 

So, how much of the executive order is merely symbolic? If many states and power generation companies are addressing the issue of coal and/or emissions themselves, its quite possible that even should the EPA greatly roll back the CPP, it may not be the "sky is falling" situation that many believe it would be. 

I wrote an article about the current state of the Clean Power Plan, and what's happening in light of (and despite) the President's directive. You can read that article in Oil & Energy online here: The Clean Power Plan: Repeal or Replace?

What do you think the future holds for the Clean Power Plan?

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Topics: clean power plan, EPA

Need a Fill Up? There's an App for That

Posted by Ed Burke on Apr 27, 2017 11:56:39 AM

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A number of start ups are seeking to replace your trip to the gas station with the tap of an app. Much in the same fashion you would use a ride share service, or a mobile glass replacement service, these apps would allow you to request a fill up via smartphone from your home, office, or wherever is convenient.

Two models in play currently are a weekly service based on a monthly membership, or essentially "touch fueling" cars (instead of 18 wheelers or equipment) on larger business campuses.

These types of start ups are still in the early stages, despite initial success. There are a lot of questions on how successful these types of apps would be nationally, as local regulations and variances could vary widely, as would requirements for drivers  - getting approval in Dallas TX may be different than doing so in Cambridge MA, for example.

I did an article for Oil & Energy Magazine this month running through the basics of these new apps, two of the successful early companies running them, and what types of integration with vehicles we may see in the future. If you'd like to read the article you can do so here:  "Fill Your Car's Gas Tank by Smartphone"

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Topics: Technology, Oil & Energy Magazine

The Struggle is Real when it comes to Regulating Autonomous Vehicle Safety

Posted by Ed Burke on Mar 23, 2017 3:00:00 PM

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Self-Driving vehicles (or AV's - autonomous vehicles) are the undisputed next frontier in consumer transport technology. Automakers, it appears, are anxious for Federal Guidelines to be put in place in order to tailor their roll outs, and be assured that they are in compliance with safety expectations, as well as in order to circumvent the mess of State's adopting their own patchwork regulations in leiu of uniform federal regulations. 

There is a difficult cost-benefit analysis in play on timing rollouts, especially as pertains to Safety. 

AVs have the potential to have a life changing positive impact on people who are disabled or otherwise not physically able to drive a standard vehicle. Additionally, AVs remove human error from traffic incidents - and human error is estimated to be responsible for 94% of all traffic fatalities. 

The problem is, how safe is safe enough for AVs to rollout?

It's somewhat of a "catch 22" - autonomous vehicles "learn" to adapt by reacting to real world driving situations to improve their own safety, essentially, but what is the threshold at which we allow them out onto the roadways to improve in the first place? How much of a risk will early adopters be taking? 

I wrote an article for this month's issue of Oil & Energy Magazine on the topic of making Autonomous Vehicles safe enough - what that means, and what the next steps are for the industry and the federal government. You can read that article here: "Making Driverless Vehicles Safe"

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Topics: Technology, Safety, AVs

Uber's Otto Delivers on Driverless Big Rig Technology

Posted by Ed Burke on Feb 20, 2017 3:00:00 PM

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This past October, a Volvo 18 wheeler delivered 2,000 cases of Budweiser in Colorado - with no driver at the wheel!

Say hello to Otto, Uber's self-driving big rig.

Before you panic - It's hailed as a solution for the trucking industry's driver supply problem, versus being a replacement for drivers in general. The company is quick to point out that the application is only really able to be used on the highway i.e. long haul routes. The technology is nowhere near where it would need to be to even consider reacting to real world tough urban obstacles like bike riders, pedestrians, and things like tourists trying drive through the Back Bay in Boston.  

As of now, the pilot programs appear to be going well when it comes to these self driving big rigs. Arguably, long haul truck routes should be the initial phase in of AV technology, because of the lack of aforementioned city obstacles.

The how safe equation is an ongoing issue when it comes to autonomous cars as well (you can read about that here: "The Struggle is Real when it comes to Autonomous Vehicle Safety" But it appears that the big rigs are passing thus far with flying colors, and multiple manufacturers are looking to get similar options onboarded. It's big news potentially for the trucking industry as well, as drivers retire and move on, there has been a real struggle to find qualified applicants to fill the spots. (They just don't make 'em like they used to, as they say... We're looking at you Kevin!)

I wrote an article for this month's edition of Oil & Energy Magazine detailing Otto's debut, and what it means going forward for the trucking industry as well as the technology itself. You can read that article here: "Otto: Uber's Self Driving Big Rig Delivers"

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Topics: AVs, Safety, Oil & Energy Magazine

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