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Energy News: Volvo Goes All In with EVs; BioFueling America; Modular Nuclear and Renewables Can Be BFFs

Our country and the world are moving forward with innovative fuel sources, demonstrating new ways to meet market demand. In recent industry news: Volvo goes electric, waste becomes energy, plants prove their mettle up against fossil fuels, and an AEE member leads the way to the future of energy. Just an average week here at AEE.

The New York Times reports that, on July 5, Volvo “rang the death knell on conventional combustion engines,” placing their faith in electricity, rather than prehistoric fossil fuels, to power their future. Although many automakers have been making strides toward electrification, Volvo is the first mainstream automaker to make such a decisive move, pledging an entire fleet of plug-in electric or hybrid models by 2019. This the first time an automaker is transitioning away from all fossil-fuel powered engines, opting for an entire fleet of electric and hybrid vehicles. 

Electric vehicles have been invited to the big kids’ table, but with power comes responsibility, or at least taxes. Greentech Media reports that 13 U.S. states have implemented fees for EVs. However, this doesn’t necessarily indicate an opposition to electric vehicles. No, states are hedging their bets to make sure that transportation infrastructure will still have a source of funding, which is currently supported by the well-known “gas tax” placed on conventional vehicles. As Julian Spector and Julia Pyper point out in the article, gas taxes are an “imperfect proxy” anyway, because “new vehicles have been trending more efficient, and electric vehicles have abandoned gas as a fuel for propulsion entirely.”

California, one of the 13 states implementing EV fees, is also working to ensure that those cars are affordable, even to families that can’t afford luxury EVs. A bill, AB 1184, co-sponsored by AEE and currently working its way through the California Senate, would offer $3 billion in EV-buying incentives. If approved, the state would set up the California Electric Vehicle Initiative, which will provide point-of-sale rebates to EV buyers. Read more about that in yesterday’s post from Steve Chadima.

ABC7 KGO, a Bay Area-based news network, interviewed AEE’s CEO Graham Richard as part of a story on the announcement from Volvo and the new California legislation.“This is a transformative time in the American economy and the global economy,” Richard said. Watch the clip:

Finally, in other EV news, Tesla’s Model 3 goes into production this month. The Model 3 is the breakthrough company’s first mass-market EV, with more than 180,000 preorders in the first 24 hours after its announcement last year. Tesla acknowledged there have been some delays on production due to a “severe shortfall” in advanced batteries for the vehicles. CEO Elon Musk expects this battery shortfall to be short-lived, however, saying that he expects 20,000 Model 3s rolling off the production line each month by the end of this year.

From cars that don’t run on gas to generation from non-fossil fuels: In North Salt Lake City, a private-public partnership is building Utah’s first waste-to-energy plant. The facility will help reduce waste in landfills, as well as provide enough energy to fuel a small city. When completed, the project will have four 2.5 million gallon anaerobic digesters running around-the-clock, turning food waste into natural gas. BP Energy Corporation will purchase the natural gas created by the digesters and the solids will be marketed to the agricultural industry.

As Morgan Bowerman, the recovery resource and sustainability manager for the site, said in an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune, “When we are wasting that, we are wasting massive amounts of a resource we can use. Food waste will always be a byproduct, why not use it? We wouldn’t take a barrel of oil and bury it,” Bowerman said.

Algae is also trying to make a name for itself as a viable alternative option to fossil fuels. Though many companies have stepped away from algal research, Exxon continues to push forward, slowly but surely creating new strains of algae that produce more oil per unit space they take to grow, thereby making them cheaper and more valuable to the consumer.

It’s not all sunshine in biofuels news this week. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt proposed reducing biofuel (specifically ethanol) requirements for petroleum companies. The proposal would leave ethanol requirements for 2018 unchanged from 2017 levels, though they are more than 20 percent lower than they should be, as outlined by a 2007 law. Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley said the proposed cuts,“will have a chilling effect on the push toward next generation biofuels,”while Pruitt said in a statement the cuts are “consistent with market realities.”

Finally, AEE member NuScale has released a paper detailing how a small nuclear reactor could pair perfectly with wind power, following the ebbs and flows of a wind farm. The company used computer models to demonstrate the flexibility of a planned nuclear site in Idaho, near an existing wind power farm. Greentech Media reports that wind and nuclear “could be friends,” with nuclear avoiding excess power generation or grid overload by scaling back when the wind blows strong, and filling in the gaps when it doesn’t. It’s called “load following,” and the small size of NuScale’s reactors mean they are more flexible than large-scale nuclear power plants.

Large-scale nuclear plants in Germany, France, and Canada are already load following, but at a cost. “Baseload plants are being forced into situations where they need to load-follow, and that’s not really operating those plants in their best form,” explained Daniel Ingersoll, lead author on the paper and NuScale Power’s director of research collaborations.

Implementation is still well in the future. NuScale submitted designs for its patented small nuclear reactor to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission last year. Barring any hold-ups, NuScale’s first commercial plant could go online by 2026. The company was first in line when the Department of Energy granted a site use permit for small modular reactors at Idaho National Laboratory early last year. But, before too long, we could see nuclear load following and renewable energy technologies working in tandem all over—two more advanced energy technologies that may taste great together.

By Reaganne Hansford and Lexie Briggs

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Rex Berglund's picture
Rex Berglund on July 13, 2017

NuScale’s load following capability is promising, but hardly news.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on July 13, 2017

Lexie, renewables are intermittent, and a “friend” to modular nuclear only because they need it. Like most needy relationships, it will end badly.

Modular nuclear is, from a clean-energy perspective, entirely self-sufficient. Though from a public-perception perspective it helps to have renewables around to introduce their new friend, after that they only get in the way. Like annoying guests who overstay their welcome.

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on July 13, 2017

The New York Times reports that, on July 5, Volvo “rang the death knell on conventional combustion engines,” placing their faith in electricity, rather than prehistoric fossil fuels, to power their future


Substantially overstated. Volvo’s press release states they will include an electric motor in all forthcoming vehicles, resulting in BEVS, and also hybrids and non-plug in hybrids. The new strategy is a step towards cleaner vehicles, but is hardly the end of the ICE or fossil fuels.

Bruce McFarling's picture
Bruce McFarling on July 14, 2017

The Greentech Media story referred to was last month … the “recent article” referred to was that same 2015 NuScale study analyzing integration with the Horse Butte wind resource.

Bruce McFarling's picture
Bruce McFarling on July 14, 2017

Quite … “no cars with only conventional combustion engines” and “no cars with conventional combustion engines” are quite a ways apart, even if they “only” differ by a single word.

Rex Berglund's picture
Rex Berglund on July 17, 2017

Lazard’s latest unsubsidized LCOE analysis showed solar+storage at $92/MWh, min nuclear at $97/MWh:×491.png

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on July 20, 2017

Rex, Lazard’s LCOE is “unsubsidized”, is it? How many $billions in renewables ownership paper does the company carry?

You’ll find another renewables-friendly LCOE at Deutsche Bank, which finances $4 billion in renewables assets,

Why anyone would trust an investment bank for accurate LCOE is beyond me.

Rex Berglund's picture
Rex Berglund on July 21, 2017

Recently Tucson Electric signed a PPA for a solar-plus-storage project that is “significantly less than $0.045/kWh over 20 years.”

“If the value of the available subsidies is backed out, the pricing on the project is probably closer to $0.09/kWh, but that ‘is still impressive,’ says Jesse Jenkins, a PhD candidate at the Institute for Data, Systems and Society at the MIT Energy Initiative.”