China’s provinces are still handing out large numbers of permits to build new coal plants to enhance their regional growth figures even as the country is experiencing its worst electricity oversupply problem. Electric power utilities are among the biggest taxpayers and local governments are eager to approve more plants, in hopes of increasing their tax base. Electricity consumption in the first 10 months of the year inched up just 0.7% compared to the same period in 2014, far below the 8% target set by the central government. Yet over this same period new coal-fired power plants were still being built, pushing up total generation capacity by almost 7%. The increase in investments comes after the central government decided in November 2014 to allow provinces, rather than the National Development and Reform Commission, the government’s top economic planner, to approve projects in a bid to cut red tape. Not surprisingly, capacity utilization of China’s coal-powered plants hit its lowest level in 10 years, down 8% compared to the 2014. This continued investment in coal technologies could thwart China’s drive to decrease CO2 emissions and transition to renewable energy.

The Central American country of Costa Rica achieved 99% renewable electricity during 2015, primarily by making use of its large river systems and heavy annual rainfall. Going forward the country intends to move away from hydropower dependence by increasing the number of geothermal plants and finding energy from other sources. In addition, it plans to reduce the reliance on fossil fuels in its transportation sector.

Renewable energy projects have become the largest generator of electricity in Scotland for the first time and now produces more electric power than nuclear or fossil fuels. Almost half (49.7%) of Scotland’s electricity use came from renewable sources, such as wind and hydro power, in 2014, according to figures from the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

The US energy storage market grew 185% this year, from $134 million in 2014 to $381 million, according to GTM Research. By 2020, it is projected to be a $2 billion market. The three largest areas for energy storage are the states of California, Hawaii and New York. California is calling for 1.3 gigawatts of energy storage by 2020 from that state’s three large electric utilities. However, GTM Research Senior VP Shayle Kann admits that while growing the US energy storage market currently is “very small.”

If energy storage systems are going to catch on there will be an increasing need for computer systems that can interact seamlessly with other electric grid assets. “Software and system controls are going to be a big part of this industry moving forward,” said Matt Roberts, executive director of the US Energy Storage Association. This will include open standards that will enable products of different designs and architecture from multiple global manufacturers to communicate with one another.

Thailand-based development company, CNX Construction, is about to debut the world’s first 24-hour, solar-powered hydrogen storage multi-house complex. (See video) The Phi Suea House in the city of Chiang Mai utilizes this innovative energy storage technology to power four family homes as well as several support buildings. During the day, solar panels on five of the structures capture energy from the Sun and send it to the energy building. The energy building then distributes power to the buildings on the compound while also converting water into hydrogen gas. During night or other times when additional energy is needed,  the hydrogen is used to produce electricity with a fuel cell. The use of solar bypasses the need to use expensive batteries. The only byproducts of the process are oxygen gas and water.

Renewable energy company Valbio has built an electric power plant in the town of Albertville in the French Alps that runs on cheese. The process uses whey, a byproduct of cheese production, to generate enough electricity to support a community of 1,500. The plant gets its whey from Beaufort cheese, made in the same region, and combines it with bacteria to cause fermentation and produce a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide gases. That gas then powers an engine that heats water to 194 degrees Fahrenheit. The resulting electricity generation amounts to about 2.8 million kilowatt-hours per year.

Egypt has reached an agreement with Italian energy group Eni SpA to commence drilling at the Zohr natural gas field in the Eastern Mediterranean. Eni will begin drilling 20 wells over 26 months. Once completed, the field will produce approximately 2.7 billion cubic feet of natural gas daily. The field potentially holds up to 30 trillion cubic feet of lean gas, which is expected to be a major contributor for satisfying Egypt’s natural gas demand for decades.



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