Gustin and companies lack technological and business imagination

Carl Gustin, a consultant to the New England Coalition for Affordable Energy, which “includes many of New England’s major business and industry organizations and labor representatives”, wrote an op-ed in favor of additional natural gas and pipelines for Massachusetts in Commonwealth‘s online magazine today. I posted a detailed rebuttal and, after an hour or so online, it was removed. I am reproducing it below. And here, on my blog, I can say more of what I think.

Mr Gustin and his New England Coalition are shills for fossil fuel energy companies that find themselves threatened with the surge in renewable energy. Clearly, like some presidential candidates, they have really thin skins.

Mr Gustin’s depiction of the electricity generation situation in Massachusetts and Texas is misleading at best, and, judging by the actual numbers at the U.S. Energy Information Administration, consists of cherry-picking from sources and years which make his case. Of course, that does not depict reality.

Let’s take Texas, for example. Their electrical energy needs in 2015 were 14 times larger than Massachusetts. They got 10% of their energy from wind, and a miniscule amount of their energy from solar (0.09%). They got 53% of their energy from natural gas and 9% from nuclear. Yet despite their large contribution from wind and large commitment to natural gas, over 2015, there was little correlation between use of natural gas and availability of wind (-0.3). That means, no, there is no offsetting of energy with natural gas when winds don’t blow. Clearly the Wall Street Journal article was incorrect in its 16% of energy claim. And while Texas might be expecting a “huge surge in solar capacity”, that’s because it presently has none, so of course if you start from a baseline of near zero, it seems like a lot. And one wonders what that false emphasis means about the perspective and motivations of the author.

In fact, in 2015 and in contrast and despite the difference in latitude and weather, Massachusetts got a full 2% of its energy from solar In fact, in 2015 it got three times as much energy from solar as from wind, despite all the ballyhooing about offshore wind and onshore turbines. Since 2014, the amount of electrical energy Massachusetts generated from solar has doubled. In the first 6 months of 2016, not the sunniest season, it STILL got 2% of its electricity from solar. Wind generation, in contrast, remained flat from 2014 to 2015, at 0.7%. Solar could keep doubling or, at least, there’s no technical reason it could not. Any of the fears about grid instability don’t happen until it is about 14% of total general, and if it doubles each year, that’s 3-5 years away, probably 5 years, since Beacon Hill has it in a stranglehold.

And what of the offsetting of nuclear and coal with renewable energy in Massachusetts? Compared to Texas, we don’t have any to speak of. Surely, there is no evidence that even the doubling of solar caused the decrease of Massachusetts electrical generation by nuclear from 18% to 15% and by coal from 9% to 7%. In fact it is mathematically impossible that renewables affected nuclear and coal generation AT ALL. In contrast, electrical generation using natural gas increased from 58% in 2014 to 64% in 2015. There’s your nuclear- and coal-killer.

And it is no wonder that GE is not a leader in renewable energy generation, at least not any longer. That field is dominated by Vestas, Siemens, Alstom Wind, Hitachi, and the surging Chinese producers CNR, CSIC, and Ming Yang. Placing bets on goal, against the outlooks of financial scholars like Bloomberg, is foolhardy, especially if, as Mark Carney, Bank of England governor suggests, these assets are likely to be stranded by regulation and insurance costs. If the op-ed is correct — and there’s plenty of evidence in its sloppy use of numbers elsewhere that it is not — GE may be turning to “clean coal” because it does not know how to compete in any other market.

The citizens of the Commonwealth ought not to be fooled. Companies deeply invested in fossil fuels are terrified that their markets and industries will encounter “Minsky moments“, causing their assets and prices to suddenly plummet. Why else, despite natural gas stranglehold on electrical generation in Massachusetts to a full 64% are the utilities and those companies crying “the sky is falling” as is Mr Gustin? Building generation and pipelines is for them an existential struggle, and they are trying to force governments to do “sunk cost buy-ins” of their assets so that, no matter what disasters unfold, those governments will be stuck with their long term investments. They are, despite their pleas, no friends to renewable energy, they are no “bridges to the future”. Their business plans do not have any renewables-accelerated depreciation schedules or phase-out timetables. They want continued revenues.

In any case, as IBM, Kodak, and Barnes & Noble have painfully learned, if technology is on your competitors side, there is no winning against it, even if you as a company own government. And it’s silly for citizens to bet on the wrong side, even if some will.

Late breaking: Why renewables are good for business, despite some claims otherwise.

Update, 2016-09-01, 22:21 EDT

I had a look at GE’s 10-K for 2015. After Mr Gustin and, presumably, his source, Rakesh Sharma at Investopedia, quoting the Wall Street Journal, gushed about GE’s pursuit of coal, both of them neglected to read that 10-K which clearly states what GE wants from Alstom:

A new segment named Renewable Energy was created that includes GE’s legacy onshore wind business and the wind and hydro businesses acquired from Alstom.

GE Renewable Energy makes renewable power sources affordable, accessible, and reliable for the benefit of people everywhere. With one of the broadest technology portfolios in the industry, Renewable Energy creates value for customers with solutions from onshore and offshore wind, hydro, and emerging low carbon technologies. With operations in 40+ countries around the world, Renewable Energy can deliver solutions to where its customers need them most.

  • Onshore Wind – provides technology and services for the onshore wind power industry by providing wind turbine platforms and hardware and software to optimize wind resources. Wind services help customers improve availability and value of their assets over the lifetime of the fleet.
  • Digital Wind Farm is a site level solution, creating a dynamic, connected and adaptable ecosystem that improves our customers’ fleet operations.
  • Offshore Wind – offers its high-yield offshore wind turbine, Haliade 150-6MW, which is compatible with bottom fixed and floating foundations. It uses the innovative pure torque design and the Advanced High Density direct-drive Permanent Magnet Generator. Wind services support customers o over the lifetime of their fleet.
  • Hydro – provides full range of solutions, products and services to serve the hydropower industry from initial design to final commissioning, from Low Head / Medium / High Head hydropower plants to pumped storage hydropower plants, small hydropower plants, concentrated solar power plants, geothermal power plants and biomass power plants.

Renewable energy is now mainstream, able to compete with conventional options on an unsubsidized basis in many locations today. New innovations such as the digitization of renewable energy will continue to drive down costs. Worldwide competition for power generation products and services is intense. Demand for power generation is global and, as a result, is sensitive to the economic and political environments of each country in which we do business. Our Wind business is subject to certain global policies and regulation including the U.S. Production Tax Credit and incentive structures in China and various European countries. Changes in such policies may create unknown impacts or opportunities for the business.

Yep, cherry-pickin’ at its worst.

About the only business GE is not in is solar PV.

What a shame. It was a good company, that GE, in its day:

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One Response to Gustin and companies lack technological and business imagination

  1. Pingback: Once more, with feeling: Responding to Kostrzewa in The Providence Journal | Hypergeometric

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