Articles in Category: Environment

We have long lamented that while solar energy production is a mature generation technology that should be used in nearly the entire U.S., the inability of our electronic grid in much of the country to store solar-generated energy limits its use to when the sun is shining. This almost always requires a backup (usually burning natural gas) for those hours when the sun does not shine.

Renewables MMIIt’s been a few years since we last talked about the baseline load problem that causes utilities that have abundant solar generation, particularly subsidized photovoltaic silicon panels on homeowners’ roofs, to bring energy costs down to zero during the day while the complete lack of generation at night forces them to give much of their short-term stored energy away before the sun goes down.

California Dreamin’: Solar for All

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that, stepping in where government and university research have failed to deliver solutions, for-profit California utilities — including PG&E Corp., Edison International and Sempra Energy — are testing new ways to network solar panels, battery storage, two-way communication devices and software to create “virtual power plants” that manage green power and feed it into California’s power grid. In California, real-time wholesale energy prices often hit zero during the day while the need for energy at night can spike them to as high as $1,000 a megawatt hour.

If California wants to stand as a land of free-flowing solar without even the need of the fossil fuel industries that the Trump administration says it wants to re-energize, then it will need a way to store its solar power, particularly if it wants to retire its last nuclear plant in 2025. Power company AES brought 400,000 lithium-ion batteries online last month in Escondido, Calif., (near San Diego) where Sempra plans to use them as a “virtual power plant” to smooth out its energy flows over the 24-hour service day.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

Electric car manufacturer Tesla, Inc. is supplying batteries to Los Angeles area network that will serve Edison International, to create the largest storage facility in the world if no one builds a bigger one by 2020 when it’s slated to be completed. The facility will be able to deliver 360 mw/h to the grid for a full day on short notice.

The 2,2000-mw Diablo Canyon nuclear plant is owned by PG&E, which wants to retire it by 2025 to meet stringent state energy codes as well avoid costly upgrades to the aging plant. Its first unit began churning out power in 1986 for the company then known as Pacific Gas & Electric.

Many utilities avoid building lithium-ion battery virtual plants because they remain considerably more expensive to build and set up than traditional power plants. California’s state laws make them more desirable there because of both environmental policies (read, climate change goals) and the regulatory hurdles and costs of just building a new plant in the Golden State. Of course, that hasn’t stopped the state from approving and building them, but the utilities that have shuttered plants early are now turning to the virtual plants to shore up their own bottom lines. PG&E Is testing batteries, software and several technologies to upgrade its grid and replace Diablo Canyon.

Intermittency, What is it Good For?

If Tesla, PG&E, Sempra and Edison can solve the grid intermittence problem in California then economies of scale could reduce the costs of virtual plants elsewhere and incentivize grid modernization via market prices rather than regulation. The costs of energy from a virtual plant will still likely cost more per mw/h than those of a new gas peaker plant, but only experimentation in cost reduction from actual working plants providing energy 24/7 can bring down those costs and deliver the innovation necessary to both optimize and right-size battery-based virtual plants. The utilities deserve praise from both customers and investors for boldly going where none have gone before. Once again, the market provides.

Two-Month Trial: Metal Buying Outlook

The Renewables MMI inched up 1.9% this month in the very mature actual metals market.

For full access to this MetalMiner membership content:
Log In |

Investors are running up cobalt prices as automakers and suppliers stock up on the raw material for lithium-ion batteries as they prepare for an increase in electric vehicle production.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

Reuters reported that Shanghai Chaos Investments and Switzerland-based Pala Investments as two of the companies that invested heavily in cobalt last year, although the amount they’ve stockpiled is unknown.

On Dec. 1, cobalt was just around $30,000 per metric ton on the London Metal Exchange. As of Monday, one mt of cobalt was trading around $49,000. That’s an increase of 63% in three months.

Report: Trump Will Scrap EPA Clean Power Plan Next Week

President Trump is expected to issue orders next week that will begin the process of striking the Clean Power Plan and ending a moratorium on new coal mining on federal lands.

Two-Month Trial: Metal Buying Outlook

The plan was largely opposed by manufacturers and metals producers. Its end will most likely bring a sigh of relief from utilities with coal-dominated generation mixes, as well, since they won’t have to alter their generation mixes within any deadlines.

We should not underestimate the effect environmental issues are having on policy in China. For the last 20 years, the West has watched the growing industrialization in China achieved at the cost of massive environmental pollution.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

Western firms have been forced to adhere to ever stricter environmental standards while steel, aluminum, cement and a host of other heavy industries in China, India and the developing world had been allowed to avoid or have flouted environmental standards saving them costs and hence allowed them to outcompete western firms. Read more

President Donald Trump today instructed the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to review and reconsider a 2015 rule known as the Waters of the United States rule, a move that could ultimately make it easier for agricultural and development interests to drain wetlands and small streams.
Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

Standing in the Oval office surrounded by farmers, home builders and county commissioners, Trump said his directive was “paving the way for the elimination of this very destructive and horrible rule” that should have only applied to “navigable waters” affecting “interstate commerce.”

The WOTUS rule has long been controversial, as it expands the definition of “waters of the United States” — and by extension the agency’s jurisdiction over private and public lands and their uses — are to include ditches, retention ponds, runoff streams and other small bodies of water. Many states contended it was an overreach of existing statutes under the Clean Water Act. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the rule pending a court case, but that case is now moot as a result of President Trump’s actions.

Two-Month Trial: Metal Buying Outlook

Manufacturers never liked the rule, which they considered a massive expansion of federal power not backed by law. The National Association of Manufacturers joined several states and other industry associations in filing the lawsuit against it.

One of the major gripes about environmental legislation is that while the West creates ever stricter laws and ever lower emissions targets, many parts of the world completely flout agreements or do not even sign up to them in the first place.

MetalMiner Benchmarking: Click Here for Current Metal Prices

The steel industries of Europe and the U.S. frequently complain that they must meet tough emission targets that their competitors in China, India and elsewhere can avoid either because their governments have not signed up to such restrictions, or because they simply are not enforced.

The True Cost of Air Pollution

Well, finally after years of complaints it appears the tide is turning but tragically it has come about due to an appalling loss of life that is only just being recognized. Air pollution alone causes 6.5 million early deaths a year the Guardian newspaper reports. That is double the number of people lost to HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined, and four times the number killed on the world’s roads. In Africa, air pollution kills three times more people than malnutrition. Read more

President Trump signed a bill to roll back a Dodd-Frank banking reform disclosure requirement that demanded that resource exploration and extraction companies disclose any payments that they might make to foreign governments, the U.S. federal government or other entities in their exploration activities.

Two-Month Trial: Metal Buying Outlook

Rule 13q-1 adopted by the SEC, would have implemented the resource extraction issuer payment disclosure provisions of Section 1504 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Under the SEC rule, a public company that qualified as a “resource extraction issuer” would have been required to publicly disclose in an annual report on Form SD of its tax return information relating to any single “payment” or series of related “payments” made by the issuer, its subsidiaries or controlled entities of $100,000 or more during the fiscal year covered by the Form SD to a “foreign government” or the U.S. Federal government for the “commercial development of oil, natural gas, or minerals” on a “project”-by-“project” basis.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), who attended the signing Tuesday, said it would be “the first of many Congressional Review Act bills to be signed into law by President Trump.” He said they would “provide relief for Americans hurt by regulations rushed through at the last minute by the Obama administration.”

Supporters of the SEC regulation say it would have provided greater transparency. The SEC said Congress had sought transparency “to help combat global corruption and empower citizens of resource-rich countries to hold their governments accountable.”

The regulation, which never went into effect, was drafted at the direction of the Obama administration in response to directions in the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation. The directive was in an amendment backed by Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) and then-Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.).

Click Here for Current Metal Prices

Foes of the regulation, led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Petroleum Institute, said the rule would put natural resource companies at a competitive disadvantage to foreign firms by disclosing too much of their contract terms.

A Washington, D.C. federal judge refused Monday to halt construction and drilling on the recently approved, eight-mile final stage of the Dakota Access pipeline, rejecting the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe’s plea for a temporary restraining order to ostensibly protect a religiously and culturally significant lake.

Click Here for Current Metal Prices

A similar challenge was rejected by another federal judge last year.

Philippines Environment Czar Cancels 75 Mining Contracts

The Philippines’  Environment Ministry, under the direction of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Regina Lopez, on Tuesday ordered the cancellation of 75 mining contracts, stepping up a campaign to stop extraction of resources in sensitive areas after earlier shutting more than half of the country’s operating mines, Reuters reported. The contracts are all in watershed zones, with many in the exploration stage.

Two-Month Trial: Metal Buying Outlook

They cover projects not yet in production and the latest action by Lopez suggests she will not allow them to be developed further. The move turns up the heat in her battle with the mining sector after she ordered the closure of 23 of the country’s 41 mines earlier this month on environmental grounds.

It can be tempting to lump our Renewables MMI in with the Rare Earths MMI as sub-indexes that rarely move with fairly calm, if lower-priced, markets.

Click Here for Current Metal Prices

That might be true of the once-high-flying RE market, but to say that about renewables would be a mistake. Sure, many of the magnets and batteries derived from rare earth elements end up in wind power installations and hybrid/electric cars so there’s a direct relation from end use, but the real difference maker in the renewables market is solar.

An estimated 2% of all new jobs created in 2016 in the U.S. came from the solar industry, according to the Department of Energy. 10% Of those jobs came from non-warm weather climes such as Colorado, too, so regional limitation is essentially over. The solar industry employs more than three times the amount of people as the coal industry, despite the political power of the latter. Solar installations are expected to rise by 29% this year from last. While wind and other renewable technologies have a long road to adoption, the solar industry is largely “there” when it comes to supplying energy directly to homes and businesses with solar silicon photovoltaic panels affixed to them and even directly to modern energy grids.

Aside from those statistics, too, there are market forces at play that make solar adoption a strong investment opportunity. China’s National Energy Administration has revealed its solar power production more than doubled in 2016, hitting 77.42 gigawatts, making China the world’s largest producer of solar energy.

But Jeff, you say, isn’t this just yet another promised tipping point? Haven’t we been promised all of this before? What makes me feel different about these studies is that they are based on jobs, and not adoption numbers alone. You may have noticed that we have a new President who is very eager to develop new American jobs. As much as President Donald Trump might like oil pipelines, coal mines and steel mills, he’ll need solar to create millions of American jobs and to make us all tired of winning so much.

Two-Month Trial: Metal Buying Outlook

The DOE report says 187,117 workers are employed at coal, oil, and natural gas power plants compared to nearly 374,000 people in the solar industry. This is somewhat misleading because an array of direct and indirect jobs related to exploration, excavation, construction, and well surveying—still employs millions of people come from fossil fuels such as oil and natural gas exploration and those aren’t counted. Still, the National Solar Jobs Census 2016 documents truly dramatic growth of a the solar industry in less than a decade and that 10% projected increase isn’t something the Trump administration can afford to miss. Workers who install rooftop solar panels make up the largest share employment in the sector at 137,133 jobs.

Increasing installations would be considered the low-hanging fruit of jobs growth. The Renewables MMI was up 2% this month.

For full access to this MetalMiner membership content:
Log In |

One of the biggest social challenges facing the authorities in Beijing is that of environmental pollution. It’s not just the western media that is fixated by measures of particulate matter and images of impenetrable smog in Beijing, the general population has been moved to outright demonstration and the impact on the health of those living in the affected areas is an extremely serious issue causing widespread discontent. Beijing knows it must come to grips with this problem. Drastic action is required, and recent reports suggest the authorities are finally considering just that.

Click Here for Current Metal Prices

According to CRU Group, the Chinese Ministry of environmental protection is consulting industry groups such as the China Nonferrous Industry Association about a proposal to shut down 30% of the aluminum smelting capacity and 50% of alumina refining capacity during the big winter heating period from November to March in an effort to reduce coal-fired power consumption. Rumous of this proposal contributed to recent rises in aluminum prices even though the impact would not be felt before the end of 2017 and there is still considerable debate on how viable such a policy would-be.

Shutdown Plan

The provinces in question are Shandong, Shanxi, Hebei and Henan, home to a significant portion of China’s aluminum smelting and alumina refining capacity. According to an article by Aluminum Insider, Shandong produces 11 million metric tons of aluminum per year, Henan turns out 3.8 mmt, Shanxi is good for 1 mmt, while Hebei puts out 100,000 mt a year. Those four provinces account for 37% of the country’s total output of aluminum. Shandong refines 23.5 mmt of alumina per year, Henan produces 12.6 mmt, and Shanxi produces 20 mmt each year, combining to produce around 78% of the country’s total alumina output. Read more

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline on Tuesday, paving the way for an infrastructure project that has been surrounded by protest and controversy.

Two-Month Trial: Metal Buying Outlook

Robert Speer, the acting secretary of the Army, announced the decision to Congress, saying he was ready to offer the pipeline’s owner a 30-year easement on a disputed patch of land.

In the decision, Speer said he would halt the preparation of an environmental impact statement meant to assess the effects of the pipeline, adding that he had sufficient information to support approval. The pipeline had already passed environmental review and a federal judge found for the pipeline after the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe flied a lawsuit, based on the tribe’s water supply and sacred lands, against it before then-President Obama halted the project last November. No part of the proposed route goes through tribal lands.

Click Here for Current Metal Prices

The easement will allow for the completion of the last mile and a half of the 1,172-mile project, connecting oil production areas in North Dakota to a crude oil terminal near Patoka, Ill. The pipeline is owned by Energy Transfer Partners. In a statement, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said, “Today’s announcement by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers brings this issue one step closer to final resolution — and delivers the certainty and clarity I’ve been demanding.”