Wednesday, September 23, 2009

California’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Good News for BC’s Renewables Sector

WWW.BLUEFUELENERGY.COM: In the September 16 post of Megawatt, the British Columbia renewable energy blog, Warren Brazier notes that California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s signing of an executive order requiring California utilities to obtain 33% of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020, including out-of-state sources, is good news for BC’s renewables sector. Absolutely true, especially in combination with the BC government’s promotion of clean energy exports. At the end of the post, however, he comments, “Next up, signing some EPA’s (Energy Purchase Agreements) with the California utilities and building the transmission infrastructure.” This reference to transmission infrastructure gives rise to the question, Can the transmission infrastructure between BC and California be sufficiently upgraded within the next 10 years to enable BC renewables to play a major role in helping California reach the 33% by 2020 target? We’re skeptical, because of costs, as well as various political, environmental, and social issues.

Given the obstacles to short-term, large-scale expansion of the grid between BC and California, we believe that California utilities would be advised to weigh the merits of converting BC renewables such as hydro and wind to carbon-neutral Blue Fuel for the purpose of power generation. A superb energy carrier, Blue fuel is, in essence, liquid electricity. To put its energy carrying capacity in context, a single 80,000 tonne ship loaded with Blue Fuel could carry from Prince Rupert to Los Angeles the equivalent amount of energy that a 500 kV line could transmit between these cities. A truly multipurpose fuel, Blue Fuel can replace natural gas for power generation without modification to turbines or combustors. Manufacturers such as Mitsubishi, Hitachi, and General Electric have all approved Blue Fuel for their gas turbines. Apart from being carbon-neutral, Blue Fuel burns much cleaner than natural gas, enhancing air quality and thus human health. Further, Blue Fuel produced in BC can be delivered to California using existing rail and shipping infrastructure. California utilities could begin using Blue Fuel with little capital investment. What’s more, because Blue Fuel feedstocks are renewable energy, water, and waste carbon dioxide, BC producers will be able to offer California utilities stable long-term pricing. By contrast, natural gas prices have a history of volatility. Although natural gas is currently inexpensive, the Conference Board of Canada has forecast much higher prices by 2013.

The case for Blue Fuel as a power generation fuel is convincing. If California utilities are not convinced, however, perhaps Japanese utilities will be. Market research to date is encouraging. Japan, after all is arguably the world leader in DME R&D and generates about one-quarter of its power with natural gas. In addition, the new government has determined that Japan will assume a leadership role amongst developed countries in reducing GHG emissions. More on this topic in upcoming posts . . .

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