Week-in-Review: MetalMiner Loves Energy

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Without energy there are no metals. No firing, smelting, or extruding happens without a steady source of power to allow structural steel, aluminum or copper to be shaped, sold and readied for delivery to the next necessary project.

In this circle of life metals such as Grain-Oriented Electrical Steel (GOES) make that energy production and transmission possible by conducting huge amounts of electrical power across the land into steel mills, aluminum smelters and the homes, commercial buildings and streetlights that heat and light up the biggest urban centers and the tiniest rural towns.

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In case you haven’t noticed, how to provide that power has gotten a lot of attention lately. Depending on what part of the country you live in, you can turn on your TV and see election commercials right now either extolling the virtues of “coal country” or blaming “dirty coal” for the destruction of our environment. For most of the past year we’ve been detailing the tariff war going on over solar silicon crystalline photovoltaic panels.

Activists protesting coal also set up an inflatable “coal plant” last week to show the evils of coal mining while simultaneously running the pump for their inflatable from a clean solar panel. Only one problem. The “coal plant” deflated because it was a cloudy day and enough electricity could not be generated by the silicon photovoltaic panel to keep it going. One protester tacitly admitted that they usually plug the pump into the wall, fed by coal-fired electricity, when that happens.

This was just the first of many energy stories that permeated MetalMiner this week. Enjoy our week in energy!

This Land is My Land, This Land is My Land

In North Carolina, Alcoa is embroiled in a court battle with the state about hydroelectric power-producing dams on 40 miles of the Yadkin River. Alcoa and its predecessor have used them since before World War I to generate power for a downriver smelter, except when Alcoa shut the aging smelter down in 2007 they started selling the energy on the open market for a cool $44 million a year (2006 estimate of value of electrical power generated).

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory (R) filed a lawsuit last year saying the riverbed has always been property of the state and even though Alcoa’s predecessor purchased the land along the banks of the river back in the early 20th century, the state never sold the land below the river.

A federal judge will decide if the lawsuit can go forward. This case brings up a point often lost in the din of energy politics. No matter what source is used to generate electrical power, it must be steady. Few clean sources are as consistent and steady as hydroelectric power. One of the reasons coal still makes up so much of our energy diet is its reliability and consistency. As our Editor-At-Large, Stuart Burns, wisely pointed out in his piece on tidal electrical power in the UK, most forms of renewable electricity generation have an intermittency problem when it comes to their delivery.

Solar Maturity

For solar, however, that could soon change.

Silicon solar photovoltaic panel-generated electricity is on track to be as cheap or cheaper than the average electricity-bill prices in 47 US states by 2016, according to a Deutsche Bank report published this week. That’s assuming the US government maintains its 30% tax credit on system costs, which is set to expire in 2016.

Solar has already reached grid parity in 10 states that are responsible for 90% of US solar electricity production. In those states alone, installed capacity growth will increase as much as sixfold over the next 3 to 4 years, Deutsche Bank analyst Vishal Shaw wrote in the Oct. 26 report. Solar has been a shining star of renewable energy success in places where the intermittency problem, particularly the American West, was not a big factor. Now, it seems poised to be distributed the rest of country.

LNG Pipeline Projects

The natural gas boom in the Marcellus Shale region of West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania has resulted in $15 billion in proposed pipeline construction projects in the Eastern US. These pipelines will carry liquid natural gas not just across the production regions, but also to ports where it could be transported to overseas markets.

Renewable sources continue to make great strides, while grid consistency is still the gold standard.






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