Monthly Archives: September 2016

News Amazon New Patent Reveals Autonomous Vehicle

Autonomous drones apparently aren’t exciting enough for Amazon, so the online retail giant has also started work on developing self-driving vehicle technology for use on the ground.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has just granted Amazon a patent related to the coordination of autonomous vehicles on a roadway with reversible lanes. Say it’s rush hour and the lane directions over a bridge have changed — it’s probably a good idea for the vehicle to know.

Amazon’s proposed roadway management system is designed to monitor traffic flow and generate routing instructions for self-driving cars based on the roadway assignment. The central network would be able to give vehicles advance warning, instead of relying on visual cues to make a real-time decision.

Amazon illustration via USPTO

The benefits of this technology could improve autonomous driving beyond lane management. Road Show reports, “Having a central system sending out notifications to individual cars is a staple of vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) technology, which multiple automakers have expressed an interest in developing.” Audi, for instance, recently unveiled its Traffic Light Information system, and BMW is integrating a traffic-light reader into new vehicle models (which I saw in action earlier this month).

For Amazon, which bought thousands of its own tractor-trailers in December, autonomous vehicles could dramatically improve the speed and efficiency of package delivery — and it could also eliminate the cost of hiring drivers.

Rumor on the street is that Amazon is developing self-driving delivery vehicles out of its drone division, Prime Air. The company made its first drone delivery in December, dropping off popcorn and an Amazon Fire streaming device to a customer identified only as Richard B. In the event that a drone can’t complete the delivery service, Amazon recently patented a system for delivering goods through underground tunnels.

Amazon illustration via USPTO

Between the drones and tunnels, not to mention the bike couriers and flying fulfillment centers, Amazon’s plans to pursue autonomous trucking may be the company’s most realistic new transport solution proposed to date. There’s no guarantee Amazon will do anything with its reversible lanes patent (the same is true of the patented network of mole-like conveyor belts). But the proposed roadway management system does confirm that Amazon is interested in the autonomous vehicle space, and could play a key role in shaping it.

All major automakers and a growing number of tech giants are working on vehicle autonomy to some extent, including Uber, which recently launched a trucking armfollowing the acquisition of self-driving truck startup Otto.

These developments are a big deal because automated vehicles are expected to play a critical role in reducing oil use and the corresponding emissions in the transportation sector — which recently surpassed the electricity sector as the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S.

Driverless cars communicate with one another to avoid rapid acceleration and traffic jams, which both burn through fuel quickly. Vehicle automation is also particularly well suited to electric cars, which can recharge wirelessly to make vehicles truly autonomous. At the same time, the availability of self-driving features is likely to make electric vehicles even more attractive to consumers.

Electric vehicle sales are growing, but still “need something radical” to reach mass scale, according to Robbie Diamond, CEO of the nonprofit Securing America’s Future Energy, which recently published a set of recommendations for the rollout of autonomous vehicle technology.

Realizing the benefits of autonomous vehicles depends on whether or not Amazon and others get the technology right. It depends on getting the rules around the vehicles right too.

California Utilities Seek One Billion Dolar to Build Out Electric Vehicle

California’s three major investor-owned utilities are already rolling out nearly $200 million in electric-vehicle charging infrastructure for apartments, workplaces and disadvantaged communities.

Now they’re seeking permission to spend $1 billion more over the next five years — a move they say is needed to help the state meet its EV targets and carbon reduction goals, even as the Trump administration threatens to cut federal support for these efforts.

In new filings with the California Public Utilities Commission, Southern California Edison, Pacific Gas & Electric and San Diego Gas & Electric have laid out plans for a combination of fast-charging stations, electric-bus and -truck charging systems, and new rates and incentives.

The biggest, from Southern California Edison, envisions raising $570 million over five years, which will increase ratepayers’ bills by an average of 0.5 percent. The rollout would include 50 fast-charging ports, capable of charging EVs in under 30 minutes, at five clusters in the utility’s territory; charging stations for electric buses and trucks, as well as airport and cargo-handling vehicles; rebates to encourage new residential charging stations; and rate incentives to encourage EV owners to charge during off-peak hours.

That’s a much bigger rollout than SCE’s $22 million Vehicle Grid Integration programapproved last year. That program will deploy 1,500 Level 2 chargers at workplaces and multifamily housing sites, and includes an emphasis on deploying third-party EV charging equipment and network providers.

SDG&E, which previously won approval to spend $45 million to deploy 3,500 chargers, is also proposing a much larger rollout funded by $244 million over five years. The plan includes charging stations for airport and seaport vehicles, delivery trucks, taxis, park-and-ride sites and up to 90,000 residences, as well as special rates to incentivize EV owners to charge at times of low energy prices and plentiful solar and wind power.

And PG&E, which late last year won approval for a $130 million rollout at apartments and workplaces, the country’s biggest utility-led EV charging program to date, is nowseeking $253 million more for an expanded list of EV projects. Those include $211 million for “make-ready” electric infrastructure for medium- to heavy-duty and off-road fleets, as well as $22 million for EV fast-charging stations.

California’s utilities have been busy making EV-charging investment plans since early 2015, when the CPUC lifted a four-year ban on utilities investing in the market. That move was seen as necessary to unlock a critical source of investment in the electrical charging infrastructure needed to help the state meet its ambitious EV goals.

California has been leading the country in electric-vehicle adoption, with some 235,000 registered in the state as of December. But it will need more charging infrastructure investment to help it reach its goal of 1 million zero-emission vehicles by 2020 and 1.5 million ZEVs by 2025.

It has also placed a heavy burden on EVs to help it attain its long-range greenhouse-gas reduction goals, which include the recent decision by the California Air Resources Board to cut carbon emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.

At the same time, CPUC is demanding that utilities make a place for third-party EV charging providers in their plans. It’s done that by limiting utility ownership to the equipment required to bring electricity to each new charging station, rather than owning the EV chargers themselves, and maintaining end-customer choice in terms of which EV charging providers they work with.

Similar guidelines are likely to apply to the new funding requests coming from utilities, particularly for charging infrastructure aimed at the larger consumer market. For example, PG&E’s $22 million fast-charger plan calls for spending to “complement state and privately funded fast charger deployments with new electric infrastructure,” rather than owning the stations themselves — a concept that PG&E floated, and the CPUC rejected, last year.

There are plenty of private parties seeking to fill the fast-charger gap in California. For example, Tesla has more than 50 of its direct current (DC) Supercharger stations installed across California, although these are designed to charge only the company’s own EVs.

EVgo, the charging company sold by NRG Energy last summer, has plans to build up to 200 fast-charging locations in California under a controversial legal settlement with the state. And startup ChargePoint announced last month that it’s using California Energy Commission grants to install 70 new fast-charging stations along the state’s highways, with installations expected to start in 2017 and be completed in late 2018.

Meanwhile, charging for fleet vehicles such as buses, delivery trucks and airport tractors is an important niche market, with longstanding projects underway to reduce air pollution and increase fuel efficiency at sites in California. Electric bus startupProterra recently raised $140 million to scale up production at its Los Angeles County factory, and the Los Angeles Air Force Base has replaced its entire fleet with plug-in EVs.

Work vehicles like these make up only a small fraction of the state’s overall EV goals. But as the Natural Resources Defense Council noted in a Monday blog post, electrifying trucks, buses, port equipment, forklifts and other vehicles that move people and goods in bulk will “provide substantial public health benefits by displacing dirty diesel pollution.”

Here The List of Top 50 Infrastructure Projects

Energy projects on Trump’s “Priority List” could add 9 gigawatts of clean power.

A list emerged this week; it appears to have been prepared for then President-elect Trump, and is titled: “Priority List: Emergency & National Security Projects.” It’s 50 pages for 50 infrastructure projects — quick facts on a host of highways, bridges, powerlines and airports, the construction of which would naturally make America greater, cost $140 billion, and require enough engineering and construction work to keep the equivalent of 24,000 people employed for 10 years.

Surprisingly, the list contains no mention of a Great Wall on the Mexico border, nor the Keystone XL or Dakota Access pipeline projects. The one pipeline project on the list is the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would move natural gas from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale down to the Southeast. Owned by Dominion Resources, Duke Energy and Southern Company, the pipeline would cost about $5 billion and provide 10,000 job years.

The Irish Times: World’s Largest Oil Company Considers Investing $5 Billion in Renewable Energy

Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest oil company, is considering as much as $5 billion of investments in renewable energy firms as part of plans to diversify from crude production, according to sources. Banks including HSBC, JPMorgan Chase and Credit Suisse have been invited to pitch for a role helping Aramco identify potential acquisition targets and advising on deals, the people said, asking not to be identified as the information is private.

The energy company was seeking to bring foreign expertise in renewable energy into the kingdom, sources said, adding that first investments under the plan could occur this year.

Saudi Arabia is planning to produce 10 gigawatts of power from renewable energy sources including solar, wind and nuclear by 2023 and transform Aramco into a diversified energy company. The kingdom also plans to develop a renewable energy research and manufacturing industry as part of an economic transformation plan announced by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in April. Saudi Aramco, HSBC, Credit Suisse and JPMorgan declined to comment.

The Marijuana Times: A Colorado Mayor’s Advice on Marijuana for Massachusetts Lawmakers

As lawmakers throughout Massachusetts deal with the creation of a legal recreational marijuana industry, they are getting some advice from someone who was in a similar position just a few years ago: the mayor of Boulder, Colorado.

Suzanne Jones was elected to the Boulder City Council in 2011 — before voters in Colorado approved adult use cannabis legalization in 2012 — and she currently serves as the city’s mayor. She was recently on a radio show in Massachusetts, and she had two big pieces of advice for lawmakers in the state.

The first was to make the initial regulations and restrictions as strict as possible. “Start out strict. You can always relax your regulations as the industry proves itself,” Jones said. From a government point of view that makes sense, but the opposite is true for the entrepreneurs trying to break into the industry. From a business standpoint — especially a small business — regulations and restrictions are rarely relaxed; if anything, more are just piled on top as time goes on.

Her second piece of advice was that lawmakers should make sure legal marijuana growers are using “green energy.” “It [marijuana growing legalization] will increase your energy output, so you might as well get some added community benefit from that by having it be green energy,” she said.

Forbes: Solar Employs More People In U.S. Electricity Generation Than Oil, Coal and Gas Combined

In the United States, more people were employed in solar power last year than in generating electricity through coal, gas and oil energy combined. According to a new report from the U.S. Department of Energy, solar power employed 43 percent of the electric power generation sector’s workforce in 2016, while fossil fuels combined accounted for just 22 percent. It’s a welcome statistic for those seeking to refute Donald Trump’s assertion that green energy projects are bad news for the American economy.

Just under 374,000 people were employed in solar energy, according to the report, while coal, gas and oil power generation combined had a workforce of slightly more than 187,000. The boom in the country’s solar workforce can be attributed to construction work associated with expanding generation capacity. The gulf in employment is growing with net generation from coal falling 53 percent over the last decade. During the same period, electricity generation from natural gas increased 33 percent while solar expanded 5,000 percent.

Bloomberg: Japan’s ‘Unresolved’ Disaster Sways Former Advocate of Nuclear Power

The man blocking the world’s largest nuclear plant says he grew opposed to atomic energy the same way some people fall in love.

Previously an advocate for nuclear power in Japan, Ryuichi Yoneyama campaigned against the restart of the facility as part of his successful gubernatorial race last year in Niigata. He attributes his political U-turn to the “unresolved” 2011 Fukushima Daiichi disaster and the lack of preparedness at the larger facility in his own prefecture, both owned by Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc.

“Changing my opinion wasn’t an instant realization,” Yoneyama said in an interview. “It was gradual. As people say, you don’t know the exact moment you’ve fallen in love.”

Info FERC Resignation Could Mean Big Delays for Trump

Just as President Trump takes power promising to ramp up oil and gas production, a sudden resignation in a key agency threatens to put such projects on hold across the United States.

On Thursday, Norman Bay, one of just three current members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), said he would resign effective Feb. 3, even though his term isn’t up until next year. His announcement came shortly after Trump decided Bay’s fellow commissioner, Cheryl LaFleur, would serve as the commission’s new chair.

“I think [Bay] was perhaps disappointed that Commissioner LaFleur was elevated above him,” says Carolyn Elefant, an energy lawyer who represents landowners negotiating with pipeline companies. After Bay’s abrupt decision, Elefant says she’s “heard in some FERC circles he’s being criticized for that.”

The resignation could mean costly delays for some major pipeline projects.

The boom in nuclear energy began in the 1950s, when America, Russia, Britain and France rushed to develop reactor technologies for electricity generation. By the late 1970s around 230 reactors were under construction. However, following the accidents at Three Mile Island in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986, fears about safety led governments in Europe and America to halt construction and wind down research on new civilian nuclear technology. Interest in nuclear energy did not rebound until the turn of the millennium, when concerns over securing energy supplies, reducing carbon emissions and meeting the growing demand for electricity in developing economies kick-started another wave of investment.

Building reactors is not an easy business proposition. Two recent additions to the world’s nuclear fleet, in Argentina and the United States, took 33 and 44 years to erect, respectively. Moreover, neither of the two technologies that were supposed to revolutionise the supply of nuclear energy — the European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) and the AP1000 from America’s Westinghouse — has yet been installed, despite being conceived early this century. According to the Global Nuclear Power database, almost two-thirds of the 55 plants currently under construction are behind schedule. In Finland, France and China, all of the EPRs in progress are years behind planners′ expectations. Delays in construction of the AP1000s in America are likely to cost Toshiba, their owner, billions of dollars. On January 27, Toshiba said it was scaling back its nuclear ambitions.

There’s a massive offshore wind turbine in Østerild, Denmark breaking energy generation records left and right.

MHI Vestas Offshore Wind — a joint venture between Vestas Wind Systems and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries — showed off its 9 MW turbine prototype in December 2016, an upgrade to its V164-8.0 MW version. The Goliath of wind turbines generated nearly 216,000 kWh over 24 hours during its December test, breaking the previous record for energy generation record for a commercially available offshore wind turbine. To put the numbers in perspective, that’s enough energy to power the average American household for roughly 20 years.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources will vote on two Trump administration nominees on Tuesday, pushing ahead the confirmation process for President Trump’s energy and environment team.

The committee will consider Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) to be Interior Secretary and Rick Perry to be Secretary of Energy.

Energy Committee members held confirmation hearings for both Zinke and Perry the week before Trump’s inauguration, and neither are seen as particularly controversial nominees. Even so, some Democrats expressed concerns about their positions on climate science, public land ownership under the Trump administration and possible cuts to research funding, meaning there is plenty of potential for dissenting votes on Tuesday.

Neither nominee, though, draws as much Democratic and environmentalist anger as Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency nominee Scott Pruitt, whose confirmation is due up in the Environment and Public Works Committee on Wednesday.