Westward Group Alternative Energy: Tesla Unveils Renewable Energy Batteries for Homes and Businesses

Once you’ve heard the name of Tesla Motors Inc., you’ll immediately think that it is just a car company. However, it is also an energy innovation company according to the report from Westward Group Alternative Energy.

Recently, it introduces Tesla Energy, a collection of batteries for homes, business, and utilities providing a clean energy ecosystem. Tesla batteries store sustainable and renewable energy to manage power demand, provide backup power and increase grid resilience.

Tesla grew its business beyond electric vehicles and engaged into the fast-growing area of energy industry, and Tesla Energy is a critical step in the mission of enabling zero emission power generation.

Tesla otors Inc. CEO Elon Musk revealed the products to a group of business partners and journalists at a Tesla facility near Los Angeles.

Tesla grew its business beyond electric vehicles and engaged into the fast-growing area of energy industry, and Tesla Energy is a critical step in the mission of providing zero emission power generation and changing the entire energy infrastructure of the world.

Tesla Energy consists of two separate products, which are the Powerwall and the Powerpack. Musk described these products as helping to wean the world off fossil fuels.

Powerwall is a home battery that charges using electricity produced from solar panels, or when energy rates are low, and powers your home in the evening. It also supports your home against power outages by providing a backup electricity supply. It is available in 10kWh, optimized for backup applications or 7 kWh optimized for daily use applications. It is easy to install, compact, automated, and offers independence from the utility grid and the security of an emergency backup.

The 10kWh Powerwall is designed to provide backup when the grid goes down, providing power for your home when you need it most. When combined with solar power, the 7kWh Powerwall can be used in daily cycling to extend the environmental and cost benefits of solar into the night when sunlight is not available.

On the other hand, Tesla defined the Powerpack as an infinitely scalable system that can work for businesses, in industrial applications, and even public utility companies, that comes in 100 kWh battery blocks that can range from 500 kWh all the way up to 10MWh and higher. Musk states that the company’s mission was to basically change the way the world utilizes energy on an extreme scale.

Musk opened the press event by mentioning climate change, and saying that it’s within the power of humanity to change the way we produce and use power. He views the $5 billion gigafactory which is under construction in Reno, Nevada as a product, the first of many. He also added that with 160 million Powerpacks, they could power the United States, and with 2 billion, the world. The event was powered by stored solar energy.

 

Energy sector faces issues regarding climate change and energy consumption

Executive Director of the Joint Institute for Strategic Energy Analysis, Douglas Arent, talks about the result of the imminent climate change and the challenges and opportunities the energy sector faces regarding the matter, in a lecture held in the Peter O’Donnell building as reported by Westward Group Alternative Energy blog.

Arent stated that the energy sector must decrease the amount of energy required to power a domestic economy and minimize its carbon footprint in order to help the United States overcome the results of climate change. Furthermore, he also noted that in order to reach the world’s demand for energy, carbon productivity must increase three times as quickly as labor productivity did during the Industrial Revolution.

According to the research of Arent’s team, which was requested by the Department of Energy, the United States could possibly meet the amount of its 2050 estimated electricity demand by using renewable energy.

As a result, renewable energy will represent anywhere from 30 to 90 percent of energy consumption. Arent also discussed that due to the desire of older people to create a sustainable earth for younger generations, they tend to invest more in clean and renewable sources of energy because they care for their children and grandchildren.

Trong Nguyen, a finance sophomore claims that in order to support the world’s energy demand in the future, the carbon productivity levels should increase. He also stated that he wouldn’t be surprised if future technological breakthrough allows society to quickly reach the carbon productivity levels that could meet the world’s demand for energy.

Jonathan Tran, a public health freshman said that experts should be devoted to increase their research to find more possible sources of renewable energy, because he believes that using an increasing amount of renewable sources of energy will support the society to deal with both the persistent problem of energy sources and limiting nonrenewable energy’s damaging impact on earth.

Energy investments are increasingly distributed to clean and sustainable energy due to the fact that decarbonizing initiative is gaining more traction. Bloomberg Energy Finance projected that for the next twenty years there will be a constant and relatively significant increase in investment in clean energy technologies and also a decrease in fossil fuel investment worldwide.

Westward Group Alternatives: Top 10 Alternative Energy Stocks for 2015

With global energy demand continuously on the rise, fossil fuels alone will not be sufficient to meet the demand. Alternative energy, which is defined as any energy source other than fossil fuels, is gaining interest. This segment addresses a lot of concerns linked to fossil fuel usage, including carbon-dioxide emissions, climate change, and other harmful effects on the environment. Companies operating in the alternate energy space include business operations in products, services, and research associated with alternative energy, and in production and supply of alternative energy. As development in technology continues amid high fluctuations in oil prices, this sector is expected to see high volatility.

This article discusses the top alternate energy stocks that look promising for 2015. The list is in alphabetical order with market capitalization, revenue, relative past performance for last one year, a brief description of primary business streams, and future prospects. Sun and wind rule the popularity list, while others forms of energy like biomass, geothermal, hydroelectricity are limited due to operational constraints and less efficiency. (See related: Why You Should Invest in Green Energy Right Now)

1. Canadian Solar Inc. (CSIQ): Founded in 2001 and headquartered in West Guelph, Canada, Canadian Solar is in the business of designing, developing, and producing solar cells, solar wafers, solar modules, and solar power products. It operates globally with a presence in Canada, the US, China, Germany, India, and Japan. Its market cap is around $1.9 billion and revenues are $914.38 million. Investors looking for investments in a global solar energy business will find this company a good fit.

2. Enphase (ENPH): Founded in 2006 and headquartered in Petaluma, California, Enphase Energy, Inc. is in the business of developing and designing of microinverter systems for the solar photovoltaic industry internationally. Associated businesses include the Enlighten software portal that acquires, processes, and relays information that helps customers to monitor and manage their solar power systems. Enphase has a market cap of $537 million and revenues of $105.21 million.

3. First Solar (FSLR): Founded in 1985 and headquartered in Tempe, Arizona, First Solar, Inc. is in the business of designing, manufacturing, and selling photovoltaic solar equipment and solar power systems through its two segments: components and systems. It has a market cap of $5.98 billion and revenues of $1 billion. It operates globally, serving commercial and industrial clients.

4. NextEra Energy (NEE): Founded in 1984 and headquartered in Juno Beach, Florida, NextEra is in the business of renewable energy generation from sun and wind. It operates in the US and Canada through two subsidiaries: Florida Power & Light Company and NextEra Energy Resources, LLC. The company offers wholesale and retail electrical service to almost five million customers and owns generation, transmission, and distribution facilities to support its services. Its market cap is around $46.43 billion and revenues are $4.664 billion. Investors looking for a company with operations in both wind and solar space will find this company a good fit.

5. Plug Power Inc. (PLUG): Founded in 1997 and headquartered in Latham, NY, Plug Power provides technology for the alternative energy sector. Its business operations are in “design, development, commercialization, and manufacture of fuel cell systems for the industrial off-road market.” Its market cap is around $454.32 million and revenues are $21.45 million. Although ranking lower in terms of market cap compared to the other stocks mentioned, Plug Power is a leader in fuel-cell technology a
nd one of the pure technology players in the alternate energy space

alternate-energy-stock-performance-1

1. SolarCity Corp (SCTY): Founded in 2006 and headquartered in San Mateo, California, SolarCity is designs, installs, and sells and leasessolar systems for commercial and residential customers. It also operates the sale of electricity that is generated by solar systems. Other businesses include energy storage, charging services for electrical vehicles, home energy evaluations, and energy efficiency upgrades. The company’s market cap is around $4.81 billion and revenues are $71.81 million. With a wide variety of businesses based on solar energy, this company is firmly placed in the list of top alternative energy stocks.

2. SunEdison, Inc. (SUNE): Founded in 1984 and headquartered in Maryland Heights, Missouri, SunEdison Inc. is into renewable and solar energy. Through its three segments (solar energy, semiconductor materials, and TerraForm Power), it is in the business of developing, manufacturing and sales of silicon wafers, photovoltaic cells, and other energy solutions. It has a market cap of $6.47 billion and revenues of $610.5 million.

3. SunPower Corp. (SPWR): Founded in 1985 and headquartered in San Jose, California, SunPower Corp. is an energy services and technology company. Its customer base is spread across residential, industrial, and utility segments with operations in North and South America, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia Pacific. Its product range includes ground mounted and rooftop solar systems, panels, and inverters. Its market cap is $41.7 billion and revenues are $1.17 billion. This company offers a good investment option with business serving a diversified customer base globally.

4. TerraForm Power (TERP): Founded in 2014 and headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, TerraForm Power Inc., owns and operates the contracted clean power generation assets of SunEdison, Inc. and other entities. It is a wholly-owned subsidiary of SunEdison. The company operates wind and solar power plants in Canada, Chile, the UK, and the US. It plans to expand further into wind, geothermal, natural gas, hydroelectricity, and hybrid-energy solutions, which can make it a good long-term good investment option. Its market cap is $4.47 billion and revenues are $42.57 billion.

5. Viviant Solar, Inc. (VSLR): Founded in 2011 and headquartered in Lehi, Utah, Viviant Solar follows the distributed model for selling electricity generated by a solar energy system installed at customers’ locations to other residential energy customers, based on contract pricing. It operates in Arizona, California, Hawai’i, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Utah. Viviant also offers photovoltaic installation software products and equipment. It has a market cap of $1.3 billion and revenues of $6.86 billion. Investors looking for a US-focused solar energy company might find this a good fit.

The Bottom Line

The alternative energy sector has seen a few challenges in last few years and growth has not met expectations. For example, the US Department of Energy’s loan program to fund solar industries had initial failures with companies like Solyndra and Abound Solar going bankrupt. However, the program was reported to break even in December 2014, showing signs of success and justifying the claims that supporters of alternative energy will benefit in the long-term. Moreover, the sector continues to evolve and is expected to see good growth in the mid- to long-term. (A good number of companies listed above are less than a decade old.) One can also explore alternate energy ETFs as an investment option.

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Westward Group Alternative Energy Tokyo, Asia, Paris Summit: Wind energy companies Gamesa, Suzlon & Mytrah infusing huge funds into solar energy

Big wind energy cos such as Gamesa, Mytrah and Suzlon are all diversifying into solar space this year with plans to invest several hundred million dollars in the next 5 years.

Big wind energy cos such as Gamesa, Mytrah and Suzlon are all diversifying into solar space this year with plans to invest several hundred million dollars in the next 5 years.

NEW DELHI: Big wind energy companies in India such as Gamesa, Mytrah and Suzlon are all diversifying into solar space this year with plans to invest several hundred million dollars in the next five years in installing thousands of solar megawatts, given the government’s impetus to the sector.

While London’s Alternative Investment Market (AIM) -listed Mytrah Energy (India) Ltd, which is an independent power producer, plans to invest a total of $400 million, of which $100 million would be in equity over the next one year solely in setting up its solar business, Gamesa India will invest euros 200 million over the next two years for its overall operations, as it diversifies into solar space this year.

“We don’t want to depend on only one kind of fuel. Last year, the prices in solar were high and we didn’t want to do subsidy-driven business as it is not sustainable. We’re waiting for tenders related to National Solar Mission now and hope to be in the 1,500-2,000 MW range over the next 5-7 years,” Vikram Kailas, MD at Mytrah Energy, told ET.

The company intends to install nearly 100 MW of solar energy projects over the next one year, he added. Similarly, the Indian subsidiary of Spanish wind turbine maker Gamesa, which has the largest wind energy market-share in the country, is also diversifying into solar power this year with plans to install 100 MW going up to 500 MW in the next two years.

“I have a target of 100 MW of solar EPC, rooftop installation and village electrification this year but we might exceed this as we’re talking to both domestic and foreign developers who are talking to us for large solar power plants and we’re giving them turnkey solutions. We’ll also venture into off grid with net metering,” said Gamesa India CMD Ramesh Kymal.

Solar energy, said Kymal, is the way forward for India in the long term as the country has more sunshine than wind. Wind turbine maker Suzlon, meanwhile, plans a hybrid model of wind and solar energy, whereby solar plants will be set up on the same land as wind turbines.

This is intended to save the company from land issues and overcome power evacuation hurdles as grid is available near wind farms. Its target is to install 500 mw over the next years.

According to strategy consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, it is a natural extension for independent power producers (IPPs) in the wind space to branch out to solar.

“In India, while wind sector is more mature, solar has just picked up. The fact that solar energy in India is inching closer to grid parity and government is increasing its focus on solar energy, installations through regulations and revised solar energy capacity addition targets has resulted in IPPs building up solar plants as well. But both wind and solar are equally appealing business opportunities for companies from the point of view of attractiveness,” says Amol Kotwal, Director, Energy & Environment Practice, Frost & Sullivan.

The country has 22,000 MW, or 22 gigawatts (GW), of wind energy installation and a little over 3,000 MW of solar power plants in the country. The government seeks to scale up solar to 100 GW and wind to 60 GW by 2022, which will require investments of nearly $200 billion.

Westward Group Alternatives: UN climate talks in Paris

Representatives from around 190 nations have started the latest phase of negotiations in Geneva a couple of weeks ago to discuss climate change concerns.

The international agreement which covers over 100 concerns was contained in a 37-page draft that still needs to be prepared for negotiations in May and June, then ratification by the end of the year.

Pressure to get a final decision on the climate accord is mounting as both the global sea and land surface temperatures have reached record levels last year. All the leading countries have to declare emission targets by March so it’s no surprise that the EU is reportedly exerting pressure to get pledges from its members.

At the start of the conference, EU has already recognized that the target countries might not be able to contain the rise of global temperature below the ideal threshold of 2°C. (That critical 2 degrees is the threshold that Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change thinks is a tipping point on a major climate change.)

According to Westward Group Alternatives, the draft highlights the divide between developing countries and their wealthier counterparts. So another concern is directed to the developing nations: should they also be required to make a carbon-reduction pledge? Also, there’s the question of whether developed nations ought to compensate them for losses related to climate change.

During a UN press interview, the European Union negotiator said, “We are concerned the targets set in Paris may fall short of what is required by science, that it will not be exactly what is required to remain within the 2 degrees.”

The US itself has committed to decreasing their emissions by 27% in the next 10 years along with creating another more ambitious international climate change accord. Westward Group Alternatives has previously reported that the US considers climate change as a risk to national security, so much so that it considers postponing the reductions could turn out to be more expensive in the long run.

 

 

How to Reduce Energy Consumption in the Office

When it comes to cutting operational costs in the office, one of the most obvious ways to go is to reduce the electricity bill. It’s awfully important to look closely at your energy expenditure, especially since it will probably mean a lot of savings in the long run.

To give you some tips on how to save your money and help the environment, here are a few small things you can change in your office courtesy of Westward Group Alternatives.

Temperature

– When it’s cold, keep the curtains or windows wide open so the heat from the sun can help out your heating system.

– When you do use air conditioning, make sure that doors and windows are closed so that the cold won’t disperse in a much wider area than necessary.

– Adjust the thermostat whenever people go on break or go home — a change of a couple of degrees for a few hours can already make a big difference.

– Instead of AC, use a cooler or an electric fan to cool the room.

– Ensure that your heating and cooling system gets a check-up every 6 months so problems can readily be identified and repairs done before more energy goes to waste.

Lighting

– Make use of the natural daylight whenever possible. Just by opening up the blinds or windows you can take advantage of this free source of light and reduce the heat emission at the same time.

– Instead of lighting up a whole room, switch an overhead lamp during overtimes.

– Identify the correct level of brightness in a particular area. Just like how too little light can cause eye strain, so is too much light.

– Choose lighting fixtures that are more energy-efficient. For instance, fluorescent lamps consume less than half of the energy that an incandescent lightbulb does; plus, it lasts much longer.

– Always turn off the lights when not in use and make sure that lights outside are only turned on when needed.

Others

– Set your desktops or laptops to hibernate when not in use, or better yet, turn off the display before you get up your seat. The monitor consumes a large amount of energy so putting up that cool screensaver is not actually going to do your electricity bill any good.

– You might also consider investing on so-called ‘green’ alternatives for your major equipment like airconditioning and computers. It might cause you a little more than usual upfront but you can save in your electricity bill for months to come, based on a Westward Group Alternatives report.

– Unplug any charger that’s completed its job or else it will continue to draw energy. On the same note, manually unplug any machine or equipment before you close shop. Any plug that’s connected to an AC is still consuming a small amount of energy, even though it is turned off.

Energy Consumption Tips

For the past four decades, energy costs have spiralled beyond control and now eat up a lot of every family’s budget. But most people are not aware of simple energy-saving tips they could easily practice and save a lot of money they could use for other vital expenses.

Whether we are talking about electricity or gas, we can do something about the high cost of energy consumption. Here are a few easy to do tips:

1. Every small thing adds up to big expense

The casual way most people treat energy use leads them to waste a lot of money. Leaving small gadgets and appliances left plugged into outlets, such as cellphone chargers, unused PC’s, TV, aircons and electric fans can consume energy because of their standby mode features. They may not consume much when unused; but when left for hours, they could still add up to a sizeable chunk of a kilowatt-hour. In some cases such as defective electric fans, they could be actually pose as fire hazards when they are on and people think they are not and beign to heat up and burst into flames.

In the case of gas, an expert driver and energy-saving guru once advised that idling your car for just two minutes before driving off is sufficient to warm up the engine without wasting so much gas or damaging your engine. Most people warm their vehicles up for ten minutes or more, wasting so much gas and even polluting their own homes. Add up the daily waste of gas incurred which you could convert into actual mileage you get from your car.

2. Economic use of your air-conditioner

Use of the air-conditioner in warm climates cuts a big slice into a family’s budget. But the wise and self-sacrificing individual can do something to reduce the cost of its use. At night, when the temperature goes down a bit, you can turn on the aircon for an hour or two instead of the expected eight hours till morning and cool down your room comfortably throughout the night. When it gets warm in between, you can turn on a fan to cool you down. You can save more than fifty percent of the usual cost of running the aircon all-night-long.

Or you can opt to turn on the aircon all night but keeping the thermostat at the minimum. That way, you keep the room at a comfortable level without having to allow the condenser to work so much. A 10 to 20 % saving can be attained through this.

3. Schedule your use of energy to avoid wastage

Cooking can add a big cost to your energy use from other sources. For instance, if you live in a condo which you normally keep cool with a fan or an aircon, turning on the stove can raise the temperature and increase your expense. Having an exhaust fan to drive away heated air may help; but the better thing to do is to turn off the aricon and use a fan alone. You may also design the unit in order to isolate the kitchen from your living room.

Having so many gadgets that emit heat (PC, TV, water cooler and decors that use electricity) may also add up heat to your unit tremendously without you noticing it. Distributing them around your unit (keep the TV in the room while the PC should be placed in the living room) or scheduling their use so as not to create a multiplier -effect.

4. Keeping a simple lifestyle

Keeping a minimalist attitude in life may actually be the answer to reducing energy cost. Do you really need a big flat TV or two other monitors for your laptop? Can you not do with a smaller house than one that is oversized for you family?

Estimating your energy cost based on your lifestyle choices can bring a lot of savings. And choosing to be frugal when it comes to energy expense can free some funds for other beneficial use, such as education for the kids.

5. Divide business from family consumption

If you run a business at home and you need so many equipment and lighting, it might be wise to divide the use of energy accordingly so that your expenses are separate and you can monitor your use for your personal consumption from the business component.

For those who find no need to separate the two, such as running a dental clinic or a small variety store in front of a house, they may opt to use some appliances for business also for their family use. A freezer inside the store may be used for keeping your meat supply. Or the clinic may be turned into a guest room when you have visitors over a weekend.

6. Renovate to innovate

As a personal challenge or as a hobby, redesign your home in order to lessen energy cost for heating, cooling or lighting may help you save some money. Bigger windows will provide more light during the day so you will not need to have artificial lighting. At night, you can have more air coming in to cool down the interiors. Insulating some rooms facing the sun may also help keep temperatures comfortable all throughout the day and save you some money.

Solar energy is the best way to open up possibilities in energy saving which many people have not explored. The initial cost may be prohibitive; but in the long-run, you can pay for the expense with continuous savings derived from using free solar energy.

7. Keep a healthy lifestyle

Take time to read and discover the many ways you can save energy. Keeping an active and healthy lifestyle, for example, may be one good way to save some of your expense for electricity and cable services. If you have the habit of staying outdoors early in the morning or evening, walking, bird-watching or biking, you will find no need to stay in front of the TV or the PC sitting for hours and spending on energy instead of energizing and keeping your body fit.

There are a lot of ways to do away with wasteful energy use and saving money. It oly takes some imagination and a lot of self-sacrifice which can actually equate to self-improvement.

 

Is Tesla project a Dream Factory?

San Antonio had to claw its way into contention for Tesla Motors‘ planned “gigafactory,” a dream project that would put 6,500 people to work in a $5 billion plant that produces lithium-ion batteries.

By several accounts, local officials overcame the city’s also-ran status in the early stages of Tesla’s site selection. They finally coaxed the electric-car maker into taking a serious look at San Antonio for the project, which the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company announced in late February.

Now, San Antonio may be considered the strongest potential site in Texas.

That’s because CPS Energy brings a lot to the table as a would-be partner for Tesla and because Mayor Julián Castro is reportedly working as many angles to win the project as he and his staff can think of.

As Tesla vets potential locations, CPS Energy is posting flirtatious Tweets on the virtues of electric vehicles. The city-owned utility is also using social media to play up its commitments to renewable energy — it’s looking to make wind and solar power account for 20 percent of its electricity sources by 2020 — and demand response, which is when customers voluntarily reduce their use of electricity at times of peak demand.

Presumably, that’s music to the ears of Elon Musk, the co-founder, CEO and chairman of Tesla. He’s also co-founder of SolarCity, one of the largest providers of residential solar systems in the U.S., and Tesla’s gigafactory would produce battery packs not just for Tesla vehicles but also “stationary storage applications” for homes and businesses. Solar panels on rooftops and battery systems to store the power they generate would come in handy for the demand response CPS Energy boasts about.

Texas — which is competing against Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico for the gigafactory — also has caught a couple of lucky breaks lately.

A big black mark against both Texas and Arizona is that they basically outlaw Tesla’s distribution model — to sell cars directly to consumers, without going through franchised auto dealers.

True, Texas lawmakers are unlikely to break free of the hold dealers have on them (and their campaign accounts) anytime soon. But at least Arizona proved itself to be in the same position last week; a bill that would have allowed Tesla to sell straight to consumers — perhaps giving the state an edge — died in the legislature, according to news reports.

Also last week, the drive in New Mexico for a special legislative session to OK incentives for the gigafactory appears to have petered out, Albuquerque Business First reported Tuesday.

But as San Antonio officials have gotten their hopes up, questions about the viability of Musk’s gigafactory have been relentless. An April 1 headline in the Wall Street Journal: “Does Tesla Really Need a $5 Billion Battery Factory?”

Some of the skepticism started with Panasonic, which currently supplies lithium-ion batteries to Tesla.

The maker of the luxury Model S sedan is willing to spend $2 billion on the facility, which would take up 10 million square feet and sit on as many as 1,000 acres. The company needs partners to cover the other $3 billion, and Musk suggested Panasonic might be one of them.

But Panasonic’s president, Kazuhiro Tsuga, was noncommittal when he talked with reporters in Tokyo on March 26. As Bloomberg reported, he said: “Elon plans to produce more affordable models besides Model S, and I understand his thinking and would like to cooperate as much as we can. But the investment risk is definitely higher.”

Tesla has stayed mum on potential partners since then.

The big idea behind the gigafactory is that mass production, with raw materials such as lithium and cobalt coming in the front door and battery packs going out the back, will push down the cost of batteries by about 30 percent. Since batteries are the most expensive components of electric vehicles, the cost cuts would make Tesla cars less expensive.

A good thing, considering the Model S now starts at a little more than $70,000.

The company also has its mid-market Model E in the works — a car priced for the rest of us. It’s expected to launch in 2017, the same year Tesla wants its gigafactory to start production.

Some of the questions coming at Tesla are whether it could actually slice 30 percent off of battery production costs, and how it would source the raw materials. But the most important question is whether enough drivers will embrace all-electric vehicles to keep the gigafactory humming.

As planned, the facility would produce enough batteries for 500,000 vehicles per year by 2020.

Selling that many Teslas would be a real feat.

The company began delivering the Model S is 2012 and had sold over 25,000 in North America and Europe by the end of 2013, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. For a little perspective: Chevrolet sold 42,000 Silverado trucks in March.

Overseas sales will be critical to Tesla. The manufacturer will start selling Model S sedans in China this month, and in Japan, the United Kingdom and Australia later this year.

A local official I talked with recently, who’s worked on the gigafactory bid, was hopeful but also wary, saying, “There are questions about how viable this project is.

“It depends on your view of the future. Will enough people give up their gas-powered cars?”

Post-Fukushima Japan Chooses Coal Over Renewable Energy

An employee holds a piece of coal in a storage yard at the Joban Joint Power Co. Nakoso coal-fired power station in Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan.

An employee holds a piece of coal in a storage yard at the Joban Joint Power Co. Nakoso coal-fired power station in Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is pushing Japan’s coal industry to expand sales at home and abroad, undermining hopes among environmentalists that he’d use the Fukushima nuclear accident to switch the nation to renewables.

A new energy plan approved by Japan’s cabinet on April 11 designates coal an important long-term electricity source while falling short of setting specific targets for cleaner energy from wind, solar and geothermal. The policy also gives nuclear power the same prominence as coal in Japan’s energy strategy.

In many ways, utilities are already ahead of policy makers. With nuclear reactors idled for safety checks, Japan’s 10 power companies consumed 5.66 million metric tons of coal in January, a record for the month and 12 percent more than a year ago, according to industry figures.

“You cannot exclude coal when you think about the best energy mix for Japan to keep energy costs stable,” said Naoya Domoto, president of energy and plant operations at IHI Corp., a developer of a technology known as A-USC that burns coal to produce a higher temperature steam. “One way to do that is to use coal efficiently.”

Japan’s appetite for coal mirrors trends in Europe and the U.S., where the push for cheaper electricity is undermining rules limiting fossil fuel emissions and supporting cleaner energy. In the U.S., a frigid winter boosted natural gas prices, providing catalyst for utilities to extend the lives of dirtier coal plants. Germany, Spain and Britain are slashing subsidies for renewables to rein in the cost of electricity.

An employee walks in a coal storage yard at the Joban Joint Power Co. Nakoso coal-fired power station in Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan.

An employee walks in a coal storage yard at the Joban Joint Power Co. Nakoso coal-fired power station in Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan.

Mixed Bag

For renewable energy environmental groups, Japan’s policy is a mixed bag offers little in the way of policy direction. Instead, it backs the status quo, calling for reactors shut after the 2011 disaster to be restarted while offering no targets for the amount of power coming from wind and solar.

“What had been expected of the basic plan was to present a major policy to switch from nuclear power,” the Japan Renewable Energy Foundation said in a statement. “But the basic plan shows that the government has given up fulfilling that role. The plan does not promote a shift from old energy policies.”

WWF Japan urged the government to set a target to promote clean energy as soon as possible.

“The energy plan failed to present the spirit of innovation,” the conservation group said in a statement April 11. “Japan basically needs to recognize an increase in coal use is a serious issue for climate change. The country needs to push for reduction of carbon dioxide.”

The Joban Joint Power Co. Nakoso coal-fired power station stands illuminated at night in Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan.

The Joban Joint Power Co. Nakoso coal-fired power station stands illuminated at night in Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan.

Fossil Fuels

In calling for technology to be used to soften coal’s environmental impact, the plan acknowledges that traditional fossil fuels pollute more and carry higher costs.

Before the accident, Japan got 62 percent of its electricity from fossil fuels, and nuclear made up about a third, according to government figures. Since then, utilities reverted to fossil fuels such as liquefied natural gas and coal to replace nuclear capacity taken offline. Those thermal power sources generated about 90 percent of Japan’s electricity in fiscal 2012, according to figures in the energy plan.

Buying more fossil fuels comes at a cost. The resource-poor nation has run 20 consecutive months of trade deficits and last year backtracked on promises to cut greenhouse gas emissions. That jarred United Nations talks involving 190 nations discussing ways to limit global warming.

Export Hopes

“It’s crucial to have diverse energy sources for a country like Japan, which relies on imports for all energy,” said Akira Yasui, an official in charge of coal policy at the Ministry of the Economy, Trade and Industry. “Our basic stance is to use coal while caring for the environment as much as possible. Coal is economical and stable in supply.”

Abe’s government is supporting the development and export of advanced coal technology from Japan. According to a growth strategy released in June by the prime minister, the nation intends during the 2020s to commercialize A-USC technology. It’s also seeking to sell a equipment that combines fuel cells with a process called integrated gasification combined cycle to improve the efficiency of power generation.

“By applying Japan’s most advanced coal technology, the U.S., China and India can reduce a combined 1.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year,” far above Japan’s total emissions, Toshimitsu Motegi, Japan’s trade minister, told parliament in February.

Fukushima Disaster

Japan’s interest in IGCC technology is on display at the Nakoso Power Station’s No. 10 coal power generator, about 60 kilometers (37 miles) south of the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant. The unit, set up in 2007 to demonstrate the feasibility of the technology, can produce about a quarter of a typical nuclear reactor’s 1 gigawatt of electricity.

Had it not been for the Fukushima disaster three years ago, the generator would have been closed. Today, it’s up and working after repairs. The station, operated by a joint venture between Tokyo Electric Power (9501) Co. and Tohoku Electric Power (9506) Co., posted record output for the year ended March 31.

“This was a research generator,” Yoshitaka Ishibashi, associate director and executive general manager at the plant, said in an interview. “They’re usually dismantled once the study is over. But nuclear reactors were suspended, power supply was tight, and 250 megawatt is not a negligible capacity. So it was turned into a commercial one.”

More Coal

Tokyo Electric, better known as Tepco, has other plans to use more coal for the stations that serve 29 million customers around the nation’s capital.

The utility plans to add two more IGCC generators at the Nakoso station and at its Hirono plant, also in Fukushima. A more traditional 600-megawatt coal-fired generator at the Hirono site began operating in December.

Power generation costs from IGCC can eventually be reduced to conventional coal power generation levels at 9.5 yen (9 cents) per kilowatt hour, though that may not happen for 10 years to 15 years, said Ishibashi at the Nakoso power station.

“The plan represents nothing but anachronism,” said Mie Asaoka, head of the Kiko Network, a Kyoto, Japan-based environmental organization.

Floating Nuclear Plants Could Ride Out Tsunamis

This illustration shows a possible configuration of a floating offshore nuclear plant, based on design work by Jacopo Buongiorno and others at MIT's Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering. Like offshore oil drilling platforms, the structure would include living quarters and a helipad for transportation to the site. Illustration courtesy of Jake Jurewicz/MIT-NSE

This illustration shows a possible configuration of a floating offshore nuclear plant, based on design work by Jacopo Buongiorno and others at MIT’s Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering. Like offshore oil drilling platforms, the structure would include living quarters and a helipad for transportation to the site. Illustration courtesy of Jake Jurewicz/MIT-NSE

New power plant design could provide enhanced safety, easier siting, and centralized construction.

When an earthquake and tsunami struck the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant complex in 2011, neither the quake nor the inundation caused the ensuing contamination. Rather, it was the aftereffects — specifically, the lack of cooling for the reactor cores, due to a shutdown of all power at the station — that caused most of the harm.

A new design for nuclear plants built on floating platforms, modeled after those used for offshore oil drilling, could help avoid such consequences in the future. Such floating plants would be designed to be automatically cooled by the surrounding seawater in a worst-case scenario, which would indefinitely prevent any melting of fuel rods, or escape of radioactive material.

 

Cutaway view of the proposed plant shows that the reactor vessel itself is located deep underwater, with its containment vessel surrounded by a compartment flooded with seawater, allowing for passive cooling even in the event of an accident. Illustration courtesy of Jake Jurewicz/MIT-NSE

Cutaway view of the proposed plant shows that the reactor vessel itself is located deep underwater, with its containment vessel surrounded by a compartment flooded with seawater, allowing for passive cooling even in the event of an accident. Illustration courtesy of Jake Jurewicz/MIT-NSE

 

The concept is being presented this week at the Small Modular Reactors Symposium, hosted by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, by MIT professors Jacopo Buongiorno, Michael Golay, and Neil Todreas, along with others from MIT, the University of Wisconsin, and Chicago Bridge and Iron, a major nuclear plant and offshore platform construction company.

Such plants, Buongiorno explains, could be built in a shipyard, then towed to their destinations five to seven miles offshore, where they would be moored to the seafloor and connected to land by an underwater electric transmission line. The concept takes advantage of two mature technologies: light-water nuclear reactors and offshore oil and gas drilling platforms. Using established designs minimizes technological risks, says Buongiorno, an associate professor of nuclear science and engineering (NSE) at MIT.

Although the concept of a floating nuclear plant is not unique — Russia is in the process of building one now, on a barge moored at the shore — none have been located far enough offshore to be able to ride out a tsunami, Buongiorno says. For this new design, he says, “the biggest selling point is the enhanced safety.”

A floating platform several miles offshore, moored in about 100 meters of water, would be unaffected by the motions of a tsunami; earthquakes would have no direct effect at all. Meanwhile, the biggest issue that faces most nuclear plants under emergency conditions — overheating and potential meltdown, as happened at Fukushima, Chernobyl, and Three Mile Island — would be virtually impossible at sea, Buongiorno says: “It’s very close to the ocean, which is essentially an infinite heat sink, so it’s possible to do cooling passively, with no intervention. The reactor containment itself is essentially underwater.”

Buongiorno lists several other advantages. For one thing, it is increasingly difficult and expensive to find suitable sites for new nuclear plants: They usually need to be next to an ocean, lake, or river to provide cooling water, but shorefront properties are highly desirable. By contrast, sites offshore, but out of sight of land, could be located adjacent to the population centers they would serve. “The ocean is inexpensive real estate,” Buongiorno says.

In addition, at the end of a plant’s lifetime, “decommissioning” could be accomplished by simply towing it away to a central facility, as is done now for the Navy’s carrier and submarine reactors. That would rapidly restore the site to pristine conditions.

This design could also help to address practical construction issues that have tended to make new nuclear plants uneconomical: Shipyard construction allows for better standardization, and the all-steel design eliminates the use of concrete, which Buongiorno says is often responsible for construction delays and cost overruns.

There are no particular limits to the size of such plants, he says: They could be anywhere from small, 50-megawatt plants to 1,000-megawatt plants matching today’s largest facilities. “It’s a flexible concept,” Buongiorno says.

Most operations would be similar to those of onshore plants, and the plant would be designed to meet all regulatory security requirements for terrestrial plants. “Project work has confirmed the feasibility of achieving this goal, including satisfaction of the extra concern of protection against underwater attack,” says Todreas, the KEPCO Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering and Mechanical Engineering.

Buongiorno sees a market for such plants in Asia, which has a combination of high tsunami risks and a rapidly growing need for new power sources. “It would make a lot of sense for Japan,” he says, as well as places such as Indonesia, Chile, and Africa.

This is a “very attractive and promising proposal,” says Toru Obara, a professor at the Research Laboratory for Nuclear Reactors at the Tokyo Institute of Technology who was not involved in this research. “I think this is technically very feasible. … Of course, further study is needed to realize the concept, but the authors have the answers to each question and the answers are realistic.”

The paper was co-authored by NSE students Angelo Briccetti, Jake Jurewicz, and Vincent Kindfuller; Michael Corradini of the University of Wisconsin; and Daniel Fadel, Ganesh Srinivasan, Ryan Hannink, and Alan Crowle of Chicago Bridge and Iron, based in Canton, Mass.