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APRIL 27, 2022

What a fun whirlwind we had in New York. ICYMI, here’s a photo of Anca and I toasting our first in-person meeting!

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Send your energy photos, story tips and more to news@ciphernews.com or reach us directly at anca@ciphernews.com and amy@ciphernews.com.

VOICES
Bringing coal workers into the clean energy age
BY: RAMYA SWAMINATHAN

Swaminathan is CEO of Malta, a thermal energy storage company. You can reach her at ceo@maltainc.com.

As increasing attention is focused on transitioning our energy systems, we in the United States can’t forget the special debt owed to the people of Appalachia, the Mountain West and other U.S. coal-producing regions.


Coal miners, their families and communities have worked tirelessly for two centuries to heat our homes and power America’s growth. Coal mined in West Virginia, Wyoming and other states provided the low-cost, round-the-clock energy that fueled the industrial revolution, electrified America and launched the computer age.

Times change. Similar to how the internal combustion engine overtook the steam engine, renewable energy is now less expensive than even the cheapest fossil fuels to generate electricity. Concerns about climate change are driving people from across the political spectrum to prioritize non-emitting energy sources over fossil fuels.

Because solar and wind power don’t always generate electricity, American innovators such as my team at Malta have developed new technologies to efficiently store electricity for days. This allows renewable energy to be available on demand. For the first time in history, a 100% carbon-free electricity grid is achievable.

The clean energy transition is challenging for all states, but doubly so for coal states like West Virginia and Wyoming, the two biggest coal-producing states in the nation. When a coal-fired power plant closes, it displaces workers and disrupts family life. In addition, the lost tax revenue can take a toll on an entire community.

Facing these dynamics, some traditional coal states are revising laws and regulations to diversify their economies. They’re deploying more carbon-free energy to attract businesses that want clean energy. They’re doing what they can to ensure their citizens are not left behind.

For example, West Virginia recently lifted a ban on nuclear energy production, laying the groundwork for advanced nuclear power plants. Today, the state has eight wind farms generating more than 857 megawatts (MW) of electricity. Three new hydropower plants are in the works, which will add to the existing 12 that generate more than 260 MW of clean electricity. The state’s first solar farm—to be built on a former coal mine—is slated to come online as soon as next year.

Companies like Malta are helping, too. We are in the final phase of a U.S. Department of Energy-funded study of how to repurpose retiring coal plants and save jobs using our energy storage technology.

Malta’s technology uses components from the power sector and relies on the same skillsets and trades that coal plants use today. Coal plant workforces can build, operate and maintain a Malta clean power plant with only minimal retraining required. Keeping the worksite operating preserves jobs and the local tax base, saving whole communities.

Malta’s plant also produces clean heat when it re-generates stored electricity that can be used to attract new businesses to the community. It can dry timber and agricultural products, grow crops in greenhouses or be used for district heating, which can warm clusters of buildings such as college campuses, all while dramatically reducing facilities’ carbon footprints.

Last year, Congress passed the bipartisan infrastructure law, which includes funding to attract new industries and create new jobs where coal mines and coal-fired power plants have closed. This law funds demonstrations of new, clean energy technologies, including long-duration energy storage, which can facilitate more clean energy without sacrificing the reliability and resiliency of the electricity grid. These new technologies are essential to a carbon-free economy, and they can ease the transition for coal communities.

We can do more. Legislation is pending before Congress that would reduce the cost of new energy-storage technologies to ratepayers. This would make it easier for ratepayers to benefit from clean technology and create new jobs in states like West Virginia and Wyoming. It would reduce the cost of technology like Malta’s for utilities, making it easier for them to repurpose retiring fossil-fuel-powered energy plants.

To ensure we continue the energy transition, we must remember the workers, communities and states that got us to where we are today. We have a civic duty to honor their contributions to society and ensure they too have a stake in America’s clean energy future.

Editor’s note: Malta’s investors include Breakthrough Energy Ventures, which is affiliated with the broader Breakthrough Energy network that supports Cipher.
Lunchtime Reads and Hot Takes
This $1.5 billion startup promised to deliver clean fuels as cheap as gas. Experts are deeply skepticalMIT Technology Review
Amy’s take: Follow the money where it goes—and just as importantly, where it doesn’t go. Expect to see more stories scrutinizing the success (or lack thereof) of cleantech startups.

Sources of opposition to renewable energy projects in the United StatesEnergy Policy
Amy’s take: Nearly half of 53 renewable energy projects analyzed in this study were ultimately cancelled, and 80% had more than one source of opposition. Scroll down to the bottom, section 5, to learn how things should change.

The US has more clean energy projects planned than the grid can handleCanary Media
Amy’s take: Key quote: "If you love solar and wind power, you have to at least like transmission," says a National Lab author of a new study on backlog of transmission approvals.

Macron promises to abandon gas, oil and coal, but will he deliver? Climate Home News
Anca’s take: French President Emmanuel Macron’s victory over Marine Le Pen over the weekend was a huge relief for those worried about the country’s future climate policies (she had planned to dismantle wind turbines). But pressure is rising now on Macron to follow through on his promises.

Biden administration launches $6 billion nuclear plant bailoutThe Washington Post
Amy’s take: It seems like coverage of nuclear power has been particularly critical lately. Yes, huge obstacles face this technology—particularly cost—but in this story, for example, it doesn’t point out that nuclear provides more than half of America’s carbon-free electricity, and that when such plants have shut down, emissions rose.

The former chancellor who became Putin’s man in Germany The New York Times
Anca’s take: For those keen to get a sense of the complex Russia-Germany energy relationship, this is a great dive into how personalities, money and power have led to an awkward gas dependency that is proving politically costly during war time.

For carmakers like Toyota, hybrids are a hard habit to give upFinancial Times (paywall)
Amy’s take: Consumers also like hybrids (ahem, I drive a Prius). Still, a startling stat: "It has been 25 years since the first Prius was launched but the market remains niche. Hybrids still make up just 5% of annual US light vehicle sales. It has taken less than four years for EVs to reach 3%."

Battery Innovator Takes Aim at EV Range AnxietyEnergy Intelligence
Amy’s take: This is an exciting development! I have two questions: If they don’t use cobalt or nickel, what material do these batteries need (and where are they located)? My other question is about cost: How much more expensive is it compared to current batteries? High up-front cost is another big deterrent to buying electric cars.

To fight climate change, and now Russia, too, Zurich turns off natural gasNPR
Anca’s take: Politicians across the EU have been increasingly appealing to the public to use less energy to be less dependent on Russian gas. But since solidarity can only go so far, officials are stepping in with mandatory limits, for example, in Italy. The Swiss are not part of the 27-nation bloc, but Zurich, the country's largest city, is cutting off gas to entire parts of the city.


More reading:
  • Investors at top US banks refuse to back climate proposals Financial Times (paywall)
  • Canada overestimating hydrogen's potential cut carbon emissions, report saysReuters
  • The climate risk for hydropower — Energy Monitor
  • European oil giants in 'league of their own' as Shell tops BNEF energy transition rankings — Recharge News
  • Russia to Cut Gas to Poland and Bulgaria, Making Energy a WeaponBloomberg (paywall)
  • Poland finds it’s tough to go cold turkey on Russian energy — Politico
DATA DIVE
EU electric charging points booming but not across the board

By: ANCA GURZU

The European Union’s public electric charging infrastructure has been growing quickly, but the adoption rate varies greatly across member states.

That’s according to a report last week by ChargeUp Europe, the organization representing the electric vehicle infrastructure industry in Europe.

It found that public charging stations have grown nearly 600% between 2015 and 2021. Public charging points are those found along highways or on the street and are different from private charging options like those at home or work.

Overall, more than 330,000 publicly accessible charging stations were operating in the EU at the end of 2021. This translates into an average of 73 charging points per 100,000 inhabitants. But, as the chart above shows, this is very unevenly distributed across countries.

More than half of the EU’s public charging points are in the Netherlands (122,000) and Germany (65,000), according to the report. That translates into almost 700 electric charging points per 100,000 inhabitants in the Netherlands versus just four in Greece.

"There is the great risk that countries with a high proportion of charging points today stay ahead of the others—entrenching a two-speed Europe divide," the report states.

AND FINALLY...
Pump AND power prices
This is a convenience store in Denver, Colo., which started displaying kilowatt hour prices upon its opening in September 2020. Drivers can gas up, but they also can recharge with superchargers for electric vehicles. Choice is a Denver-based convenience retailer with three locations. All future stores will have chargers, Mike Fogarty, Choice founder and CEO, told Cipher in an email. A small number of customers currently use the charging stations—Fogarty estimates around 5%. But of course, we’re just at the beginning of this transformation.

Each week, we feature a photo that is somehow related to energy, the thing we all need but don’t notice until it’s expensive or gone. Email your ideas and photos to news@ciphernews.com.

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