New Clean Energy Office Targets Rural Areas: Watch Out, Joe Manchin


The US Department of Energy has apparently had enough of West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin and his love affair with fossil fuels. The agency has just established a new $ 20 billion office for clean energy demonstrations, aimed at scaling up big solutions to climate problems with a focus on rural communities and environmental justice. Almost 90% of the electricity produced in West Virginia still comes from coal-fired power plants, so it appears the message is going directly to Senator Manchin, as coal holds a place in his financial portfolio.

Like it or not, here is clean energy

To be clear, the new Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations could make many accommodations for powerful elected officials with an interest in the fossil fuel business, including West Virginia Governor Jim Justice and Senator Manchin. Among its areas of intervention, OCED cites carbon capture and “clean” hydrogen, which means that the production of hydrogen from coal or natural gas could be on the table.

However, OCED also ranks small modular nuclear reactors among its preferred technologies, posing a direct threat to the US coal industry. So far, the idea of ​​a whole new nuclear reactor fleet has not won much love from local communities here in the United States, no matter how small and modular they are. Yet nuclear power is favored by a number of other countries, which explains the interest of leading investor Bill Gates in the nuclear field.

In this context, the Department of Energy could monitor the market for the export of technologies for the US nuclear industry, at least in the near future. All else being equal, growing demand for nuclear power overseas would put pressure on US coal producers who depend on international trade to stay afloat.

Global Coal Market On The Rocks

To make matters even more interesting, take a look at when Senator Manchin objected to the Build Better Climate Action Bill. He used his decisive Senate vote to wrest major concessions from supporters of the bill. However, Manchin refused to come out and officially scrap the legislation until he emitted a definitive “no” in a TV appearance on Sunday, December 19. This was around 9 days after the rumor was that the president had personally ordered an immediate shutdown end of federal funding for coal-fired power stations and other fossil fuel projects abroad. The order, sent by diplomatic cable to every U.S. embassy, ​​follows a pledge taken by the Biden administration last august.

The directive does not apparently apply to projects with carbon capture. Nonetheless, it appears the Biden administration sent Manchin a warning in August. When that failed to get its vote on Build Back Better, they followed through on the threat, demonstrating that the president has the power to help take coal out of the global energy situation, regardless of what does. Senator Manchin.

Manchin may have thought he won the round on TV, but the Biden administration is not alone. Reuters reports that “almost all” international development banks reduce their coal consumption. Major investor groups have also reduced their interests in coal. The pace has been slow and the coal fundraising movement could backfire in some cases, but the trend seems to be gaining traction. On December 14, for example, HBSC announced a gradual reduction in coal funding in two stages starting with EU and OECD markets by 2030, and other markets by 2040.

Grid-wide energy storage and the death of coal

Where were we? Ah yes, the Clean Energy Demonstration Office. Small modular nuclear reactors are not the only threat to US coal players. Grid-scale energy storage is emerging as another substitute for coal-fired power plants, as well as natural gas.

As of this writing, OCED does not have its own web page on the US Department of Energy website, so for now anyone can guess what “grid-scale energy storage” means.

The Ministry of Energy, however, drops a few clues.

“Demonstration projects prove the effectiveness of innovative technologies in real conditions at scale to pave the way for widespread adoption and deployment,” the agency explains.

“The Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations will move clean energy technologies out of the lab and into local and regional economies across the country, proving the value of technologies that can deliver to communities, businesses and markets,” adds the Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, who also pointed out that the $ 20 billion came directly from the bipartisan infrastructure law – that is, the federal funding package that was passed by Congress along with the help from Manchin.

No word yet on what friends of the Senator’s fossil stakeholders think about any of this, but it looks like he has something to say.

Grid-scale energy storage is already present in the form of large arrays of lithium-ion batteries, but it appears the Department of Energy is already looking beyond Li-ion technology to an area wider.

If, on a grid scale, they also mean long-lasting energy storage, then gravity energy storage systems, flux batteries, concentrating solar energy and more per storage systems. gravity and particle-based gravity systems could all be part of the mix. There may even be a place for flywheels in the clean energy grid of the future.

The OECD could also monitor smart grid technology that allows small-scale and distributed energy storage devices to work together. This could include vehicle-to-grid systems that take advantage of the growing number of mobile energy storage devices in the market.

A clean energy makeover for hydrogen

The OECD is just as vague when it comes to “clean” hydrogen. For the record, hydrogen is not “clean”. The main source of hydrogen today is natural gas, followed by coal.

However, it is today. A quick glance at the electric vehicle sector shows how quickly new clean energy technologies can take hold of the market, even after a slow start.

Electric vehicles first appeared on the market at the end of the 19th century, only to disappear at the beginning of the 20th century when gasoline and diesel engines took over. After a long run dry, General Motors introduced the ill-fated EV-1 in the 1990s. That was 25 years ago, and since then a lot of water has flowed under the bridge. Along with the tremendous marketing power of Tesla Motors, GM and other historic automakers are finally taking the lead in vehicle electrification.

Pew Research recently published the figures on Adoption of electric vehicles in the United States, and got a figure of 1.1 million for the number of 100% plug-in electric vehicles registered in the United States as of 2020. This is a small but significant portion of the 289 million vehicles registered in the United States this year. there, and it seems like the stage is ready for rapid expansion.

Edmunds expected that Electric vehicles will represent 2.5% of new vehicle sales in 2021, with further growth to come in 2022. Out of around 15.2 million vehicle sales in 2022, Edmunds expects about 4% to be electric vehicles.

All of this puts the hype around clean hydrogen into perspective. It takes time for entrenched technologies to come off the market, although government policies such as “money for the fools” can help pick up the pace.

Additionally, if the Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations seriously considers fossil-based hydrogen and carbon capture, the timeline for commercial viability could extend well beyond window 2030 to prevent catastrophic climate change.

This leaves yet other, more sustainable hydrogen supply options that are already beginning to emerge in the market. Most of the “green hydrogen” activity focuses on electrolysis systems which deploy renewable energies to push the hydrogen out of the water. The supply of hydrogen from biogas, wastewater and industrial waste gases is also part of the mix.

When it comes to phasing out existing systems, Mitsubishi and other leading engineering companies are already marketing gas turbines designed to switch to green hydrogen for power generation as supply increases. The global steel industry is also relying on green hydrogen for its clean energy transition. The shipping industry is mobilizing with the demand for green ammonia, produced by combining green hydrogen with nitrogen in ambient air, and agricultural players are testing the idea of ​​distributed production systems allowing farmers to produce their own green ammonia fertilizer on site.

Whether or not the Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations provides significant funding for fossil-fueled hydrogen projects remains to be seen, but the Department of Energy has recently focused more on green energy, so stay tuned. tuned for the next news on this.

Follow me on twitter @TinaMCasey.

Photo: US Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm via energy.gov.

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