This week, we have stories from the windy plains of Iowa, where a Berkshire Hathaway-owned utility, MidAmerican Energy, is closing in on 100% of its power from wind and solar; booming electric vehicle sales projections and brand new sunroof technology that could transform the market; and some AEE member news and REV updates out of New York. It’s been a busy week all around!
Mind blowing? No, wind blowing. The Des Moines Register reports this week that MidAmerican is closing in on 100% renewable energy. Right now, according to CEO Bill Fehrman, the utility is $2 billion and 550 wind turbines short of being entirely powered by renewable energy. The utility has done it before, adding 656 wind turbines to Iowa’s wind energy market between 2013 and 2015, and MidAmerican is currently working on a project to add 1,000 wind turbines to its capacity over the next few years.
“There's not another utility in the country — gas, water, cable, electric — that's held rates steady for 12, 13 years,” said Fehrman, adding that MidAmerican's rates have increased only once since 1998. They’re ninth-lowest nationally. “A lot of that is because of the wind investment,” Fehrman said. “The beauty of wind is there’s no fuel costs. We will be able to virtually serve 89 percent of our customers’ needs with an energy resource that requires no fuel.”
Meanwhile, there’s a new kind of sunroof on offer in the world of EVs. We’ve written in the past about Tesla’s major industry play – combining a solar rooftop with a household-sized battery and an electric vehicle to create a tiny home energy ecosystem. With a new announcement, Panasonic and Toyota seem to be asking, why not cut out the middleman? Or, in this case, the middle house? The latest Toyota Prius model, the Prime, will come with a brand new sunroof… made out of Panasonic solar panels. The solar option was developed for the Japanese version of the plug-in hybrid, and, according to the companies, can add up to 3.7 miles of electric-driving range per day while parked. It’s not exactly a Tesla Supercharger, but the solar panel can feed the battery pack even while the car is driving. Nifty!
But that’s not the only disruption to the vehicle market in the news. Tom Randall writes in Bloomberg this week, “The Electric-Car Boom Is So Real Even Oil Companies Say It’s Coming.” Analysts, including analysts for major oil companies, are coming to consensus in predicting a booming market for EVs. Total S.A., a French energy company and one of the seven “Supermajor” oil companies in the world, is saying that EVs may constitute as much as a third of new car sales by 2030. That lines up with BNEF’s predictions:
Compare this with last month’s news that several of other Supermajor oil companies, including Shell, Statoil, and Eni S.A., have begun to invest in offshore wind projects.
Meanwhile, in New York, some AEE members are making headlines. First up, Invenergy, a renewable energy developer based in Illinois, is breaking ground on what will be the Empire State’s second largest solar facility. The facility, sited on a former golf course in Brookhaven, on Long Island, will boast a nearly 25 MW capacity.
Meanwhile, another AEE member, Stem, is bringing the company’s energy storage knowledge to the Empire State. According to Utility Dive, the company is in discussions with more than 20 companies across the state as part of a new energy storage project with the New York State Energy and Research and Development Authority. NYSERDA announced last week that, as part of Reforming the Energy Vision (REV), it has $15.5 million in funding available. No contracts have yet been announced, but Stem expects the first four installations to be at theaters in the New York City area.
Speaking of New York REV, Lisa Frantzis, AEE’s senior vice president for 21st century electricity system, joined Greentech Media’s Stephen Lacey and Shayle Kann for their podcast The Interchange, a new (free!) podcast that provides listeners deep insights into technology, markets, projects, company financials, mergers and acquisitions, policy changes, and market data. This week’s topic is REV, with Frantzis providing an update to the latest progress as well as some much-needed perspective on the landmark regulatory reform process, now three years in.
“I think people get so caught in the weeds they don’t stand back and say ‘oh, what’s changed from three years ago,’” Frantzis said on the podcast. “In my perspective, the changes have been in the utilities’ role and the rules under which they operate.” It’s changing how regulators view their role in regard to utilities across the country as well, Frantzis said, citing Ohio’s PowerForward and other rate design, grid modernization, and business model reform projects across the country.
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