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How Texas unleashed a geothermal boom

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Saturday, April 20, 2024

With its nation-leading renewables fleet and oil and gas industry, Texas is poised to dominate what boosters hope will be America’s next great energy boom: a push to tap the heat of the subterranean earth for electricity and industry. That technology, known as geothermal energy, has demonstrated the rare ability to unite the state’s warring political camps — and is fueling a boom in startups that seek to take it national.  While other forms of renewable energy lost ground during Texas's 2021 and 2023 legislative sessions before a legislature that combined a hard-right political bent with a focus on building more "dispatchable" power, the geothermal industry advanced. State lawmakers passed four key bills in 2023  that helped lay the foundation for a new generation of drilling — with just one vote against.  In the 2023 session, "we didn't get put into the renewable bucket, we didn't really get put into the oil and gas bucket,” said Barry Smitherman, former Republican head of the state Railroad Commission and head of the Texas Geothermal Energy Alliance. Instead, “we became this hybrid that was acceptable to people on both sides of the aisle"​ The regulatory clarity established by those bills  has laid the groundwork for a new generation of startups powered by the state’s urgent need for reliable electricity in the face of increasingly extreme weather, as well as a growing trickle of oil and gas veterans leaving an industry they see as plagued by boom-and-bust cycles. As of last year, Texas had 11 of the 27 total geothermal startups in the US. On Wednesday, startup Bedrock Energy unveiled a new geothermal-powered heating and cooling system at a commercial real estate complex in Austin. Earlier this month, next-generation drilling company Quaise — which uses high powered radio waves to drill through hard rock — filed a permit with the state energy regulator to begin field testing its drills, years ahead of what industry insiders had thought was possible. Houston-based Fervo is building a 400-megawatt project in Utah. Military bases across the state are looking into geothermal as a potential source of secure electricity in an era of price spikes and cyberattacks. And later this year, Sage Geosystems, a company founded by three former Shell executives, will begin using a fracked well as a means of storing renewable energy — which CEO Cindy Taff said will get the company most of the way towards the ultimate goal of commercially viable geothermal electricity. The rise in geothermal startups comes alongside a broader surge in Texas renewable energy. Last month, solar generation eclipsed coal both in terms of power generation and market share. Texas also has more utility-scale wind and solar capacity than any other state, though it lags California when it comes to rooftop solar.  The Sage project shows the conceptual benefits of geothermal energy to the Texas grid, which increasingly runs on wind and solar energy. When the sun is high, the wind is blowing and demand is low, Sage will pump water into subterranean wells, creating zones of high pressure that utilities can tap as "batteries" when other energy supplies fall.  Though it lags California in total capacity, Texas is set to add the most utility scale batteries in the country in 2024, but these can only store power for two to six hours — creating a niche for projects like Sage, which aim to store power for up to a day. In building out its projects, Sage benefited from that nearly-unanimous package of legislative reforms passed by the during the notably acrimonious 2023 session, which opened the way to operators like Taff — and offered a potential roadmap to other oil and gas states looking to set up geothermal industries of their own. In its campaign for those pivotal laws, the geothermal lobby benefited from a recent traumatic experience for Texas: the brutal, deadly and staggeringly expensive legacy of 2021’s Winter Storm Uri. In addition to resulting in hundreds of deaths from freezing temperatures and carbon monoxide poisoning from generators, the storm left tens of millions across the state without power for nearly a week and caused electricity prices in Texas’s spot markets to soar to an unheard-of $9,000 per megawatt hour — costing ratepayers an estimated $17 billion in overcharges, a court ruled in 2023. The total cost was even higher: an estimated $300 billion, higher than that of Hurricane Katrina, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. That tragedy was weaponized by both sides in the state’s frenetic culture wars. Republicans blamed the wind industry, which had 27 percent of its turbines freeze, according to a report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Meanwhile, Democrats blamed the lack of weatherization in the natural gas industry, which FERC found had lost 58 percent of its generation or pipeline capacity during the storm — undercutting the "firm" or "dispatchable" supply of energy needed to avert blackouts.  As Republicans sought to restrict the state’s burgeoning renewables industry, geothermal threaded the needle — aided by its lobbyists' deep ties to the oil industry and the Republican establishment. The lobby pushed the message of “geothermal as firm, dispatchable, 24/7, on-off switch, clean,” Smitherman told The Hill. “And it just resonated with everyone.” Lobbyists were “playing offense on three bills,” Smitherman said. First, in S.B. 785, the industry tackled the question of who owns geothermal heat — the subterranean energy that future projects will want to tap for industrial use or to generate electricity. That was a thorny question, because Texas law divides up surface rights — which include rights to land and the groundwater beneath — and mineral rights, which govern commodities like oil and gas below the surface.  During the fracking boom, that division created ugly situations in which mineral-rights holders allowed drilling rigs to operate on — and pollute — lands that they didn’t live on, sometimes against the wishes of the people on the site.  In S.B.785, legislators agreed with the industry that heat is legally more like water than oil — which makes the process of exploration substantially easier. For operators like Sage, Taff said, “that means we go in and we just really have to have an agreement with a landowner,” rather than having to sign separate deals with the mineral rights holder and landowner. S.B. 786 clarified that the geothermal industry is regulated by the Texas Railroad Commission, the state’s confusingly-named oil and gas regulator — rather than a mix of the commission, the state environmental regulator and the state utility commission for different aspects of the industry.  And in S.B. 1210, the legislature overwhelmingly voted that the state's thousands of “orphaned wells” — inactive, non-producing oil and gas wells — can be converted to geothermal wells without an additional permit. (As The Texas Tribune reported, Sage used one of these for a test well in south Texas.) Finally, in what Smitherman called “a defensive play,” the lobby worked to ensure through H.B. 5 that geothermal energy was eligible for the same tax breaks as other forms of dispatchable power — a privilege that would otherwise have only been available to coal, nuclear and natural gas. Together, these laws mean that a geothermal startup now just has to talk to a single regulator and a single rights holder; can cut costs on drilling using an existing well; and can realize tax breaks previously available only to far more established forms of power generation. It can also take advantage of the state’s burgeoning startup scene and huge oil and gas workforce — a necessary ingredient in a sector that is built on exploring the subsurface and drilling holes. For oil and gas workers, geothermal offers its own appeal. Part of this is emotional: Taff told the Tribune about how she moved to geothermal after a decade of being pressured by her daughter to leave the “dark side” of oil and gas for renewables — and found that geothermal offered her a chance to use her downhole experience in a way that wind and solar would not. ”That redemption arc is really, really inspiring for oil and gas people,” said Jamie Beard of Project Innerspace, a nonprofit geothermal advocacy group. Involvement in the industry lets former oil and gas workers “feel like they can use their entire life's work for something that they're going to be respected for — and right now they are villainized for,” she said. But in a state — and an energy sector — where belief in climate change remains controversial, geothermal can also make a more prosaic pitch: a stable job after the rollercoaster of oilfield work. “Oil and gas is very feast and famine,” Joselyn Lai, the CEO of Bedrock Energy, told The HIll.  “It's good times — and then it's like everyone's unemployed for like six months. There's definitely this hope and belief that the clean energy future will be one where there's more consistent jobs, and that it's where growth is happening.” That pitch comes as automation and efficiency have cut oilfield jobs — and as many projections suggest that oil demand will peak this decade, even as production is currently at record levels. One Bedrock employee who had specialized in well completions — the process of inserting pipe and bringing out oil and gas — described being laid off from an oil company because his job could be done by a worker in South Asia at a tenth the price. By drilling so many wells and dialing in their efficiency so much, he said, “we drilled ourselves out of a job.” Now he helps Bedrock drill 1,000 foot wells into the stable temperature of the subsurface, which can be used to dump heat in the summer or retrieve warmth in the winter — potentially offering commercial real estate clients a way to cut their heating and air conditioning costs by two to four times. That kind of project exemplifies a main part of geothermal’s appeal: It is a consistent product, which despite being zero-carbon offers the kind of electricity that utilities are used to working with.  The industry also faces serious challenges — particularly when it comes to securing financing to roll out and develop prototypes. First-of-their-kind geothermal projects often struggle to get across what the startup industry calls the “valley of death” — the dangerous period when they have secured initial investment and are paying for operations and payroll but aren’t yet making any money. (All of the companies listed in this article are in this difficult zone.)  Despite the promise of geothermal, many potential corporate partners “want to be first to go fifth,” Bedrock investor Gabriel Scheer of Elemental Excelerator, a nonprofit investment firm focused on climate technologies.  But for those investors who take the risk, Scheer said, there is the upside of getting a jump on a new technology — and getting to shape the way it unfolds. And in Texas specifically, the geothermal industry has certain distinct advantages. First, the experience of Winter Storm Uri means state businesses may be more focused on securing reliable heat and electricity than other states. Geothermal also benefits not just from the need to buttress the large wind and solar fleet, but also from the trail that those industries have blazed in terms of innovative forms of financing. In particular, virtually every wind and solar project in the state is built after developers sign a “power purchase agreement” with potential customers — something that the geothermal industry can easily adapt, said Dennis Wamsted of the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. In Texas, Wamsted said, “Geothermal has the ability to come in and say, ‘You guys are familiar with all these contracts? Here, we are doing exactly the same thing.” Beard, the industry advocate, argued that Texas offers a model for other fossil fuel-rich states — like North Dakota or Pennsylvania — that want to transition their own industries. She was one of more than a dozen coauthors of “The Future of Geothermal in Texas,” a landmark 2023 report by five state universities that helped establish the industry’s bonafides before that year’s legislative session.  In the next six months, her team intends to replicate that report in ten such states, including Oklahoma and Pennsylvania. “The idea is, if you go into a state that has a big, significant oil and gas industry and you catalyze geothermal —  you all of a sudden have a bipartisan solution,” she said. Geothermal, she conceded “has really struggled on a federal level, with things like permitting and incentives.” But if such a research and lobbying effort were replicated across “all the oil and gas states, all of a sudden you have a federal coalition. You have movement on the federal level, and that’s the eventual outcome of all of the state work.” A national boom in geothermal would offer significant climate benefits. And in a world where the past pollution from oil and gas production is already anticipated to cut mid-century incomes by nearly 20 percent — even with aggressive climate action — it also has notable economic appeal. But in her pitch to investors or clients, Lai told The Hill, she doesn’t make the environmental pitch — because she doesn’t need to. At the end of the day, she said, “it's about the financial benefits.”

With its nation-leading renewables fleet and oil and gas industry, Texas is poised to dominate what boosters hope will be America’s next great energy boom: a push to tap the heat of the subterranean earth for electricity and industry. That technology, known as geothermal energy, has demonstrated the rare ability to unite the state’s warring...

With its nation-leading renewables fleet and oil and gas industry, Texas is poised to dominate what boosters hope will be America’s next great energy boom: a push to tap the heat of the subterranean earth for electricity and industry.

That technology, known as geothermal energy, has demonstrated the rare ability to unite the state’s warring political camps — and is fueling a boom in startups that seek to take it national. 

While other forms of renewable energy lost ground during Texas's 2021 and 2023 legislative sessions before a legislature that combined a hard-right political bent with a focus on building more "dispatchable" power, the geothermal industry advanced. State lawmakers passed four key bills in 2023  that helped lay the foundation for a new generation of drilling — with just one vote against. 

In the 2023 session, "we didn't get put into the renewable bucket, we didn't really get put into the oil and gas bucket,” said Barry Smitherman, former Republican head of the state Railroad Commission and head of the Texas Geothermal Energy Alliance.

Instead, “we became this hybrid that was acceptable to people on both sides of the aisle"​

The regulatory clarity established by those bills  has laid the groundwork for a new generation of startups powered by the state’s urgent need for reliable electricity in the face of increasingly extreme weather, as well as a growing trickle of oil and gas veterans leaving an industry they see as plagued by boom-and-bust cycles. As of last year, Texas had 11 of the 27 total geothermal startups in the US.

On Wednesday, startup Bedrock Energy unveiled a new geothermal-powered heating and cooling system at a commercial real estate complex in Austin. Earlier this month, next-generation drilling company Quaise — which uses high powered radio waves to drill through hard rock — filed a permit with the state energy regulator to begin field testing its drills, years ahead of what industry insiders had thought was possible. Houston-based Fervo is building a 400-megawatt project in Utah. Military bases across the state are looking into geothermal as a potential source of secure electricity in an era of price spikes and cyberattacks.

And later this year, Sage Geosystems, a company founded by three former Shell executives, will begin using a fracked well as a means of storing renewable energy — which CEO Cindy Taff said will get the company most of the way towards the ultimate goal of commercially viable geothermal electricity.

The rise in geothermal startups comes alongside a broader surge in Texas renewable energy. Last month, solar generation eclipsed coal both in terms of power generation and market share. Texas also has more utility-scale wind and solar capacity than any other state, though it lags California when it comes to rooftop solar. 

The Sage project shows the conceptual benefits of geothermal energy to the Texas grid, which increasingly runs on wind and solar energy. When the sun is high, the wind is blowing and demand is low, Sage will pump water into subterranean wells, creating zones of high pressure that utilities can tap as "batteries" when other energy supplies fall. 

Though it lags California in total capacity, Texas is set to add the most utility scale batteries in the country in 2024, but these can only store power for two to six hours — creating a niche for projects like Sage, which aim to store power for up to a day.

In building out its projects, Sage benefited from that nearly-unanimous package of legislative reforms passed by the during the notably acrimonious 2023 session, which opened the way to operators like Taff — and offered a potential roadmap to other oil and gas states looking to set up geothermal industries of their own.

In its campaign for those pivotal laws, the geothermal lobby benefited from a recent traumatic experience for Texas: the brutal, deadly and staggeringly expensive legacy of 2021’s Winter Storm Uri.

In addition to resulting in hundreds of deaths from freezing temperatures and carbon monoxide poisoning from generators, the storm left tens of millions across the state without power for nearly a week and caused electricity prices in Texas’s spot markets to soar to an unheard-of $9,000 per megawatt hour — costing ratepayers an estimated $17 billion in overcharges, a court ruled in 2023.

The total cost was even higher: an estimated $300 billion, higher than that of Hurricane Katrina, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

That tragedy was weaponized by both sides in the state’s frenetic culture wars. Republicans blamed the wind industry, which had 27 percent of its turbines freeze, according to a report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Meanwhile, Democrats blamed the lack of weatherization in the natural gas industry, which FERC found had lost 58 percent of its generation or pipeline capacity during the storm — undercutting the "firm" or "dispatchable" supply of energy needed to avert blackouts. 

As Republicans sought to restrict the state’s burgeoning renewables industry, geothermal threaded the needle — aided by its lobbyists' deep ties to the oil industry and the Republican establishment.

The lobby pushed the message of “geothermal as firm, dispatchable, 24/7, on-off switch, clean,” Smitherman told The Hill. “And it just resonated with everyone.”

Lobbyists were “playing offense on three bills,” Smitherman said. First, in S.B. 785, the industry tackled the question of who owns geothermal heat — the subterranean energy that future projects will want to tap for industrial use or to generate electricity.

That was a thorny question, because Texas law divides up surface rights — which include rights to land and the groundwater beneath — and mineral rights, which govern commodities like oil and gas below the surface. 

During the fracking boom, that division created ugly situations in which mineral-rights holders allowed drilling rigs to operate on — and pollute — lands that they didn’t live on, sometimes against the wishes of the people on the site. 

In S.B.785, legislators agreed with the industry that heat is legally more like water than oil — which makes the process of exploration substantially easier. For operators like Sage, Taff said, “that means we go in and we just really have to have an agreement with a landowner,” rather than having to sign separate deals with the mineral rights holder and landowner.

S.B. 786 clarified that the geothermal industry is regulated by the Texas Railroad Commission, the state’s confusingly-named oil and gas regulator — rather than a mix of the commission, the state environmental regulator and the state utility commission for different aspects of the industry. 

And in S.B. 1210, the legislature overwhelmingly voted that the state's thousands of “orphaned wells” — inactive, non-producing oil and gas wells — can be converted to geothermal wells without an additional permit. (As The Texas Tribune reported, Sage used one of these for a test well in south Texas.)

Finally, in what Smitherman called “a defensive play,” the lobby worked to ensure through H.B. 5 that geothermal energy was eligible for the same tax breaks as other forms of dispatchable power — a privilege that would otherwise have only been available to coal, nuclear and natural gas.

Together, these laws mean that a geothermal startup now just has to talk to a single regulator and a single rights holder; can cut costs on drilling using an existing well; and can realize tax breaks previously available only to far more established forms of power generation.

It can also take advantage of the state’s burgeoning startup scene and huge oil and gas workforce — a necessary ingredient in a sector that is built on exploring the subsurface and drilling holes.

For oil and gas workers, geothermal offers its own appeal. Part of this is emotional: Taff told the Tribune about how she moved to geothermal after a decade of being pressured by her daughter to leave the “dark side” of oil and gas for renewables — and found that geothermal offered her a chance to use her downhole experience in a way that wind and solar would not.

”That redemption arc is really, really inspiring for oil and gas people,” said Jamie Beard of Project Innerspace, a nonprofit geothermal advocacy group. Involvement in the industry lets former oil and gas workers “feel like they can use their entire life's work for something that they're going to be respected for — and right now they are villainized for,” she said.

But in a state — and an energy sector — where belief in climate change remains controversial, geothermal can also make a more prosaic pitch: a stable job after the rollercoaster of oilfield work.

“Oil and gas is very feast and famine,” Joselyn Lai, the CEO of Bedrock Energy, told The HIll. 

“It's good times — and then it's like everyone's unemployed for like six months. There's definitely this hope and belief that the clean energy future will be one where there's more consistent jobs, and that it's where growth is happening.”

That pitch comes as automation and efficiency have cut oilfield jobs — and as many projections suggest that oil demand will peak this decade, even as production is currently at record levels.

One Bedrock employee who had specialized in well completions — the process of inserting pipe and bringing out oil and gas — described being laid off from an oil company because his job could be done by a worker in South Asia at a tenth the price.

By drilling so many wells and dialing in their efficiency so much, he said, “we drilled ourselves out of a job.” Now he helps Bedrock drill 1,000 foot wells into the stable temperature of the subsurface, which can be used to dump heat in the summer or retrieve warmth in the winter — potentially offering commercial real estate clients a way to cut their heating and air conditioning costs by two to four times.

That kind of project exemplifies a main part of geothermal’s appeal: It is a consistent product, which despite being zero-carbon offers the kind of electricity that utilities are used to working with. 

The industry also faces serious challenges — particularly when it comes to securing financing to roll out and develop prototypes. First-of-their-kind geothermal projects often struggle to get across what the startup industry calls the “valley of death” — the dangerous period when they have secured initial investment and are paying for operations and payroll but aren’t yet making any money. (All of the companies listed in this article are in this difficult zone.) 

Despite the promise of geothermal, many potential corporate partners “want to be first to go fifth,” Bedrock investor Gabriel Scheer of Elemental Excelerator, a nonprofit investment firm focused on climate technologies. 

But for those investors who take the risk, Scheer said, there is the upside of getting a jump on a new technology — and getting to shape the way it unfolds.

And in Texas specifically, the geothermal industry has certain distinct advantages. First, the experience of Winter Storm Uri means state businesses may be more focused on securing reliable heat and electricity than other states.

Geothermal also benefits not just from the need to buttress the large wind and solar fleet, but also from the trail that those industries have blazed in terms of innovative forms of financing.

In particular, virtually every wind and solar project in the state is built after developers sign a “power purchase agreement” with potential customers — something that the geothermal industry can easily adapt, said Dennis Wamsted of the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.

In Texas, Wamsted said, “Geothermal has the ability to come in and say, ‘You guys are familiar with all these contracts? Here, we are doing exactly the same thing.”

Beard, the industry advocate, argued that Texas offers a model for other fossil fuel-rich states — like North Dakota or Pennsylvania — that want to transition their own industries. She was one of more than a dozen coauthors of “The Future of Geothermal in Texas,” a landmark 2023 report by five state universities that helped establish the industry’s bonafides before that year’s legislative session. 

In the next six months, her team intends to replicate that report in ten such states, including Oklahoma and Pennsylvania. “The idea is, if you go into a state that has a big, significant oil and gas industry and you catalyze geothermal —  you all of a sudden have a bipartisan solution,” she said.

Geothermal, she conceded “has really struggled on a federal level, with things like permitting and incentives.”

But if such a research and lobbying effort were replicated across “all the oil and gas states, all of a sudden you have a federal coalition. You have movement on the federal level, and that’s the eventual outcome of all of the state work.”

A national boom in geothermal would offer significant climate benefits. And in a world where the past pollution from oil and gas production is already anticipated to cut mid-century incomes by nearly 20 percent — even with aggressive climate action — it also has notable economic appeal.

But in her pitch to investors or clients, Lai told The Hill, she doesn’t make the environmental pitch — because she doesn’t need to. At the end of the day, she said, “it's about the financial benefits.”

Read the full story here.
Photos courtesy of

Increasing use of renewable energy in US yields billions of dollars of benefits

New study published in Cell Reports Sustainability finds emission reductions provided $249bn of climate and health benefits By increasing its use of renewable energy, the US has not only slashed its planet-warming emissions but also improved its air quality, yielding hundreds of billions of dollars of benefits, a new report has found.The study, published in Cell Reports Sustainability on Wednesday and based on publicly available data, focuses on uptick of renewable energy in the US from 2019 to 2022. Continue reading...

By increasing its use of renewable energy, the US has not only slashed its planet-warming emissions but also improved its air quality, yielding hundreds of billions of dollars of benefits, a new report has found.The study, published in Cell Reports Sustainability on Wednesday and based on publicly available data, focuses on uptick of renewable energy in the US from 2019 to 2022.“From 2019 through 2022, wind and solar generation increased by about 55%,” said Dev Millenstein, a scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. “By 2022, wind and solar provided roughly 14% of total electricity needs for the US.”During that time period, by reducing the use of fossil fuel power plants, the nation’s use of wind and solar power cut its carbon dioxide emissions by 900m metric tons, the authors found. That’s the equivalent of taking 71m cars off the road every year.Those major climate benefits can obscure the air quality benefits renewable power yielded, wrote the authors, from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and renewable consulting firm Clean Kilowatts. To illuminate those co-benefits, the researchers quantified how much the use of wind and solar reduced toxic air emissions, focusing specifically on sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen dioxides (NOx), which are both produced during fossil fuel combustion.They found emissions of SO2 and NOx – both linked to increased asthma risk and a variety of other health issues – decreased by a total of 1m metric tons over that three-year period.To determine the impact of that reduction on public health, the authors “used air quality models to track the population exposed to pollution from power plants”, Millstein said. They also employed epidemiological research to examine the effects of those emissions, and quantified the benefits by using an Environmental Protection Agency dollar value establishing the value of reducing the risk of early death across the population, he said.All told, the emission reductions from SO2 and NOx provided $249bn of climate and health benefits to the US, the authors found – a figure Millstein said he found was “noteworthy”.The study went on to examine the benefits wind and solar offer to particular regions of the United States. Wind power, for instance, is particularly beneficial to the across the Central states due to the displaced emissions on the local power grids; the same is true of solar power in the Carolinas. It’s an aspect of the research that Jeremiah Johnson, a climate and energy professor at North Carolina State University, who did not work on the study, applauded.“These findings can help us target future wind and solar development to provide the greatest climate and health benefits,” said Johnson, whose work is cited in the study.skip past newsletter promotionThe planet's most important stories. Get all the week's environment news - the good, the bad and the essentialPrivacy Notice: Newsletters may contain info about charities, online ads, and content funded by outside parties. For more information see our Privacy Policy. We use Google reCaptcha to protect our website and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.after newsletter promotionHe said he hopes the paper helps the public focus on the benefits wind and solar are already creating.The public “is often focused on the challenges we face” when it comes to ecological damage, he said. “But it is also important to recognize when something is working.”

How Plant Biology Could Revolutionize Renewable Energy

New research has revealed that the hydraulic systems of plants generate a streaming electric potential in sync with their circadian rhythms, presenting innovative opportunities for...

A groundbreaking study demonstrates that plants can generate electricity that varies with their circadian rhythms, opening up new possibilities for environmentally sustainable energy production. Credit: Aniruddha Guha, editedNew research has revealed that the hydraulic systems of plants generate a streaming electric potential in sync with their circadian rhythms, presenting innovative opportunities for sustainable energy production.When plants draw water from their roots to nourish their stems and leaves, they produce an electric potential that could be harnessed as a renewable energy source. However, like all living things, plants are subject to a circadian rhythm — the biological clock that runs through day and night cycles and influences biological processes. In plants, this daily cycle includes capturing light energy for photosynthesis and absorbing water and nutrients from the soil during the day, and slowing its growth processes at night.Study Insights on Electrical Potential in PlantsIn a new study published this week in Physics of Fluids, by AIP Publishing, the researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur detailed how biological processes produce voltage in plants and the impact of the cyclic day and night changes on this voltage.“This streaming potential, essentially a consequence of the natural energy gathered in the plant, offers a renewable energy source that is continuous and can be sustainable over long periods,” author Suman Chakraborty said. “The question we wanted to answer was how much potential it can produce, and how is electric potential influenced by the plant’s biological clock?” Plant hydraulics drive the biological process that moves fluids from roots to plant stems and leaves, creating streaming electric potential, or voltage, in the process. This study closely examined the differences in voltage caused by the concentrations of ions, types of ions, and pH of the fluid plants transport, tying the voltage changes to the plant’s circadian rhythm that causes adjustments day and night. According to the authors, this consistent, cyclic voltage creation could be harnessed as an energy source. Credit: Aniruddha GuhaMethodology and DiscoveriesTo find out, the authors inserted electrodes into the stems of water hyacinths and attached reservoirs with electrodes to pieces of lucky bamboo to closely examine how electrical potential changes depending on types of ions, ion concentration, and the pH of the fluid flowing through the plants.“Our eureka moment was when our first experiments showed it is possible to produce electricity in a cyclic rhythm and the precise linkage between this and the plant’s inherent daily rhythm,” Chakraborty said. “We could exactly pinpoint how this is related to water transpiration and the ions the plant carries via the ascent of sap.”The study quantified the voltage response originating from the movement of ions through the plant’s pathways that align uniquely with the plant’s daily rhythms.Potential for Sustainable Energy HarvestingThe authors discovered plants can actively moderate the flow of fluid or sap in sync with the day and night cycles. They also found the electric streaming potential increases with decreased concentration of ions or increased pH in the fluid.“We not only rediscovered the plant’s electrical rhythm, articulating it in terms of voltages and currents, but we also provided insight into potentially tapping electrical power output from plants in a sustainable manner with no environmental impact and no disruption to the ecosystem,” Chakraborty said.“The findings could help develop biomimetic, nature-inspired systems that can address the global energy crisis with an eco-friendly, sustainable solution in which planting a tree not only relieves the crises of climate change and declining environmental quality, but also provides a way to harness electricity from it.”Reference: “How does the diurnal biological clock influence electrokinetics in a living plant?” by Aniruddha Guha, Saumyadwip Bandyopadhyay, Chirodeep Bakli, and Suman Chakraborty, 28 May 2024, Physics of Fluids. DOI: 10.1063/5.0195088

This VP helps turn clean energy into high heat to decarbonize industry

Canary Media’s Charging Up column chronicles gender diversity and notable career moves in the climatetech sector. Got a person or event you’d like to see us cover or a hot job tip? Let us know! Nicole Geneau: A clean energy Swiss Army knife Nicole Geneau is vice president of commercial development at Antora…

Canary Media’s Charging Up column chronicles gender diversity and notable career moves in the climatetech sector. Got a person or event you’d like to see us cover or a hot job tip? Let us know! Nicole Geneau: A clean energy Swiss Army knife Nicole Geneau is vice president of commercial development at Antora Energy. This interview has been edited and condensed for brevity. How did you end up on this career path? I have had the environmental bug since high school. After college, I went into finance and accounting but wasn’t satisfied. So I slowly made my way back to environmental issues, working on the first World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg and with companies on their corporate social responsibility strategies, and then on the energy transition more directly. I joined Antora in November last year after growing increasingly frustrated at the lack of economic and effective technology solutions for industrial Scope 1 emissions. Until Antora, there was no great solution for baseload steam generation in industrial manufacturing facilities other than burning natural gas. I had worked on fleet electrification in the transportation space, but after soul-searching, I found industrial emissions to be the next underserved sector, with few commercially available technologies. That’s when I discovered Antora. I met our CEO, Andrew Ponec, and we immediately clicked. I joined as VP of commercial development, a jack-of-all-trades role. I believe being a Swiss Army knife is valuable, because you can apply it to various situations, challenges, and opportunities. I now work on anything the company needs to deploy our technology into facilities and make them commercial and operational. What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? “Get to the point.” As a Canadian, I tend to feel the need to explain and provide a history lesson before asking for something. One of my bosses told me to stop and said, ​“I don’t need the history lesson. I just need the point. What do you want?” This advice came about 15 years ago, and I think about it constantly. It frames how I communicate, and I have found it very effective. What is a barrier you faced, and how did you overcome it?  I think this issue is related to the broader challenge of women in STEM fields. Earlier in my career, when I joined the field doing actual development, there was skepticism about whether a woman could be the lead, going to community meetings, dealing with engineers and landowners. This was only about 15 years ago. It was a huge barrier to overcome. The roles that were considered more appropriate for women were in legal or marketing, which are highly valuable, but the satisfaction I’ve gotten over my career being the person in the field, negotiating with landowners, and actually building things has been tremendous. I believe we need to continue investing in STEM programs and mentoring young women so that they’re not dissuaded from joining this space, despite the fact that they will face some bias as they’re coming up. It’s still there, and we need to keep working on it. What do you think are some interesting, overlooked career opportunities in climatetech? 

Is Colorado Really the Clean Energy Leader It Claims to Be?

A campaign touting the oil and gas industry’s environmental progress says its energy-producing hydrocarbons are very clean, but not all of its claims can be verified. The post Is Colorado Really the Clean Energy Leader It Claims to Be? appeared first on .

Oil and gas companies claim their production in Colorado is among the cleanest and least polluting hydrocarbons in the country — if not the world. Are they right? The assertion — from a fact sheet by the Colorado Oil & Gas Association, an industry trade group — has legs. PDC Energy, an oil and gas firm recently purchased by Chevron Corp., cited it in an application to drill hundreds of wells, which was approved by regulators in late 2022. U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and his Republican rival Joe O’Dea repeated it in televised debates during their 2022 campaign. And the U.S. Bureau of Land Management referenced it in a 2023 federal supplemental environmental Impact statement. Fossil fuel advocates leaned into it in the spring to justify why Colorado legislators should kill a bill that would have phased out fossil fuel drilling.   “We like to say these are among the cleanest energy molecules in the world,” said Dan Haley, chief executive of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association, at a March hearing of the state Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.  “We are the only sector that’s meeting our greenhouse gas goals right now. In fact, we are exceeding our greenhouse gas goals,” Haley said, adding, “We are making up for other lagging sectors.”  Haley’s argument in part persuaded the committee to vote 5-2 to reject a measure that would have prohibited state regulators from issuing drilling permits starting in 2030. The vote came after Republican state Sen. Paul Lundeen set up Haley’s response, saying: “I think Colorado does oil and gas better than any other state in the nation — I believe we produce in a cleaner, better way, a better molecule.” A Capital & Main investigation found that Colorado’s fossil fuel industry has made strides to reduce emissions that trap heat and warm the planet. Yet it will fall short of future greenhouse gas reduction goals without additional efforts to curb pollution, according to interviews and public records.  To back up its “clean molecule” campaign, the industry touted progress on reducing toxic compounds that contribute to ozone pollution — a claim that’s difficult to verify, given widespread disagreement on the best metrics to quantify such emissions. The nine-county Denver metropolitan area has repeatedly failed to meet federal air quality standards for ozone pollution, which scientists have said causes health issues.  The state’s oil and gas trade group relies on its “Colorado molecule” messaging in part to help deflect attempts by legislators, conservationists and residents to rein in drilling. Energy Citizens, an initiative of the American Petroleum Institute, launched a $1 million TV ad on April 10 that claimed emissions reduction bills in the legislature posed a choice between “foreign energy, or cleaner, Colorado-made oil and natural gas.”  Energy companies argue that producing oil and gas in Colorado under a series of first-in-the-nation rules designed to reduce environmental effects ensures that the United States doesn’t need to buy fossil fuels from countries with poor environmental practices. The assertion raises questions about which communities must bear the brunt of pollution created by drilling and its extensive use of limited natural resources such as water, environmental justice advocates agree.  “What we need is a transformation to a clean energy system — it’s not enough to make fossil fuel production marginally less polluting.”  ~ Kathy Mulvey, climate accountability campaign director, Union of Concerned Scientists  “At the time of the hearing [on the permit ban bill] there were already 70 spills at oil and gas sites” in Colorado, said Ean Thomas Tafoya, Colorado state director for GreenLatinos, in an interview.  “The ‘cleanest molecule’ doesn’t mean we aren’t contributing to the ozone problem and there aren’t spills impacting water and that there aren’t industrial activities impacting communities,” Tafoya said.  Operators are drilling closer to dense suburban neighborhoods, including counties that account for most of the state’s Latino population, according to the Colorado Latino Climate Justice Policy Handbook produced by Conservation Colorado, an environmental nonprofit. Some 58% of the state’s oil and gas wells are in counties with high concentrations of Latinos, the handbook said. The industry’s successful use of its “clean molecule” campaign to combat threats to its longevity comes as scientists warn that the world must stop burning fossil fuels to limit greenhouse gas emissions that cause more extreme floods, heat waves and drought. Governments plan to produce about 110% more fossil fuels in 2030 than is consistent with limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, as specified in the Paris Agreement, according to a November report by the United Nations Environment Programme and others. In Colorado, regulators have greenlit plans for hundreds of wells since legislators enacted a law in 2019 to change the mission of the state’s Energy and Carbon Management Commission from promoting production to protecting public health and the environment. The state was the nation’s fourth-largest oil producer in 2022 and its eighth-biggest gas supplier. The energy industry’s “clean molecule” messaging in Colorado is part of a decades-long national campaign by the fossil fuel industry to persuade consumers it is doing its part to fight global warming and to divert attention from the need to transition away from oil and gas, scientists say.  “Clearly, they are feeling some pressure to be seen as more green. It’s a kind of ‘greenwashing,’” said Kathy Mulvey, climate accountability campaign director at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “What we need is a transformation to a clean energy system — it’s not enough to make fossil fuel production marginally less polluting.”  While the oil and gas industry has reduced pollution from its operations, it hasn’t made a dent in the greenhouse gases produced when its products are burned.  The misinformation campaign became so pervasive that Congress subjected it to a two-year bipartisan investigation that resulted in subpoenas to companies for information and a report that documented the industry’s reliance on “trade associations to spread confusing and misleading narratives and to lobby against climate action.”  The Colorado Oil & Gas Association’s “clean molecule” narrative, spelled out on its web site, said that more than 300 of its member companies use “state-of-the-art technology and innovation to decrease emissions, reduce leaks, limit venting and flaring and disturb less land.”  A Capital & Main investigation found that several of the claims are true but that there is scant publicly available data to verify others. Colorado is a national leader when it comes to reducing its overall greenhouse gas emissions, as well as methane emissions from oil and gas operations, according to data from state and federal agencies.  The Colorado Oil & Gas Association did not return Capital & Main requests for additional statistics to back up its messaging campaign.  The fossil fuel industry is “exceeding its GHG [greenhouse gas] reduction targets compared to other sectors,” according to the 2024 Colorado Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction Roadmap 2.0. State rules require producers to reduce such emissions by at least 36% by 2025 and 60% by 2030.  Even so, the Energy and Carbon Management Commission, the state’s oil and gas regulator, said in a February report: “Additional future actions will be needed to achieve the 2050 net zero goal.” While the industry has reduced pollution from its operations, it hasn’t made a dent in the greenhouse gases produced when its products are burned, which are responsible for more than 70% of energy companies’ carbon footprint, according to the World Economic Forum. Fossil fuel firms in the state also reduced methane leak rates at their facilities to 13% in 2018 from 28% in 2013 after the state enacted precedent-setting rules requiring the industry to fix leaks and cease venting and flaring natural gas, according to a pilot project conducted by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Nationwide data showed that producers in Colorado vented or flared the second-lowest amount of natural gas — of which methane is the main component — of any state in 2022.  “Through overflights we definitely see better performance in the Denver Julesburg basin than in the neighboring Permian” basin, said Mark Brownstein, senior vice president, energy transition, at the Environmental Defense Fund, a nonprofit that worked with others to develop technology to better measure methane emitted by fossil fuel operations.  “The idea that gas exports from the U.S. are the cleanest, or that gas exports from the U.S. are a net positive for the environment or the climate, simply hasn’t been demonstrated.” ~ Mark Brownstein, senior vice president, energy transition, Environmental Defense Fund  Methane traps more heat in the atmosphere and dissipates more quickly than carbon dioxide, leading scientists to develop powerful new devices, such as a series of new satellites, to better detect greenhouse gases as a way to rein them in.  MethaneSAT, a new satellite sponsored in part by the Environmental Defense Fund, will verify methane emissions figures collected by energy companies and the state, Brownstein said. Such figures often understate the actual amount of emissions, he said.  “The idea that gas exports from the U.S. are the cleanest, or that gas exports from the U.S. are a net positive for the environment or the climate, simply hasn’t been demonstrated,” Brownstein said.  Another metric the Colorado oil and gas trade group cited to back up its “cleanest molecule” argument is the decrease in the number of acres disturbed during construction and reclamation. The amount fell to about 400 acres per oil and gas location in 2024 from about 8,000 in 2011, according to the Energy and Carbon Management Commission. But the acreage cited, which was taken from forms filed with the agency by energy firms, might not all be developed, the commission said in an email.  It’s difficult to independently verify whether the industry is using state-of-the-art technology to decrease emissions. State regulators do not require electric drill rigs or track when operators deploy them, although it encourages their use, the agency told Capital & Main. “Some operators are able to do this, but it frequently depends on the availability of highline power, which is not widely available in rural or less-populated areas where drilling is occurring,” the commission said.  Also opaque is the industry’s claim that Colorado oil and gas companies operate with lower so-called “emissions intensity” — a measure of how much carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are emitted per unit of production — than companies in other oil and gas regions.  The state’s Air Quality Control Commission has not historically calculated that figure, said Zachary Aedo, a spokesman for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, in an email. But the commission recently adopted rules to require operators to meet greenhouse gas intensity requirements and account for carbon emissions, including methane. Separate directives require companies to reduce toxic compounds that contribute to ozone pollution over the next six years.  In the meantime, conservationists say encouraging competition between energy firms to see who can produce hydrocarbons with less environmental pollution is worthwhile in the run-up to tougher federal and state emissions restrictions that are set to take effect in the next few years.  “I’m more than happy to have the workers of Colorado compete against the workers in Pennsylvania and Texas and New Mexico to see who can produce a product with the least amount of methane emissions possible,” Brownstein said. “That’s a competition worth having.” Copyright 2040 Capital & Main

Permitting reform supporters press forward despite Schumer's pessimism

Capitol Hill’s permitting reform advocates are pressing forward despite Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) throwing cold water on the prospects of advancing legislation to speed up the nation’s energy projects. Schumer told reporters last week that it would be “virtually impossible” to get something done this session. But lawmakers say they’re still working toward a deal. ...

Capitol Hill’s permitting reform advocates are pressing forward despite Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) throwing cold water on the prospects of advancing legislation to speed up the nation’s energy projects.  Schumer told reporters last week that it would be “virtually impossible” to get something done this session. But lawmakers say they’re still working toward a deal.  Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said Tuesday that he and Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who have been working to reach a permitting deal, “finally have language.” He said during a Senate hearing that they want to “start sharing this language with everyone that people can see where we are,” and lawmakers hopefully "can all get our act together here.” Barrasso likewise told The Hill on Thursday that he and Manchin were moving in a positive direction.  “We talked about it again this morning, and we made good progress,” Barrasso said Thursday, adding the two are “continuing to make good progress.” However, a source close to Barrasso told The Hill on Tuesday that while discussions are ongoing, no agreement had been reached. Washington’s permitting reform discussions ramped up in 2022 after Schumer told Manchin he would pass legislation aimed at speeding up the buildout of energy and infrastructure projects in exchange for Manchin’s vote on the Inflation Reduction Act, the Democrats’ climate tax and health care bill.  The majority leader held votes on a proposal from Manchin at that time, but the effort was blocked largely by Republicans, who felt blindsided by the Manchin-Schumer deal and argued that Manchin’s bill did not go far enough. But since that time, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been working toward an agreement. Republicans have sought measures like “judicial reform,” which aims to limit legal challenges infrastructure projects face — often on environmental grounds.  Meanwhile, Democrats have sought a buildout of the nation’s power lines as part of an effort to bolster renewable energy. Despite lengthy negotiations, lawmakers have not announced significant concrete progress toward resolving policy disputes — including GOP concerns about how the costs of the power line buildout would be allocated. The issue of permitting reform has also internally divided Democrats. Supporters note changes to the electric grid are crucial for getting renewable power off the sidelines. At the end of 2023, more than 95 percent of potential new electricity waiting for permission to plug into the grid was from carbon-free power sources, like solar and wind.  However, opponents argue this buildout should not come at the expense of thorough environmental reviews or the potential to challenge polluting projects in court.  Amid lawmakers' ongoing disagreements, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) last week approved a proposal aimed at bolstering electric transmission lines — a move Schumer said came in place of congressional action, which he described as unlikely to move forward this year. “I’m happy to listen, but I’ve told Joe Manchin it’s going to be virtually impossible to get something done,” the Senate's top Democrat said last week. “I think it’s going to be very hard to get anything done legislatively on transmission at this point given the composition of the House with a Republican majority and so few Republicans eager to do any kind of regional transmission,” he added.  The comments come as Manchin, who has been a key driver of permitting reform, prepares to retire from the Senate, making this his last shot to pass the potentially signature achievement. Key negotiator Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) is also set to retire.  The majority leader’s comments met backlash from permitting’s key proponents.  Barrasso told The Hill he believed Schumer was “trying to kill permitting.” Manchin on Tuesday also criticized the New York Democrat’s remarks. “If the majority leader, Sen. Schumer, believes that what was done cured all the problems, I’ve got news — it didn't do it,” he said during an Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing.  "We have to make it easier to build [energy] generation, pipelines [and] transmission lines to meet the moment and that's why the permitting is needed so desperately,” he added.  And Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), a major backer of power lines, told The Hill on Thursday he didn’t believe the FERC rule “goes far enough.” “I think that we’re going to run up against the failings of our current system sooner than it appears,” he said. “We need to provide the incentives now to get regional grids improved and interconnected.” “There’s a bipartisan will to address the inefficiencies in the regional grids,” he added.  On the House side, Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) told The Hill that he and Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) are also still working on a bipartisan compromise — estimating that a House proposal could be “a month or two away.” He said that some of the ongoing issues include allocating costs of power lines and whether to give relief to the oil and gas sector.  “You can't sit there and say you're going to be against all the other forms of energy there are so promising and ask for more benefits for oil and gas,” he said.  Nevertheless, Peters was optimistic about the compromise's prospects.  “The reports of the death of permit reform are greatly exaggerated,” he said.  Yet as the Capitol inches closer to August recess, there is only so much time to negotiate this session — and only so much space on the House and Senate floor. While Schumer blamed House Republicans for what he described as difficulty in passing legislation, Republicans placed the blame on him. “If there’s no permitting bill done this year it’s because Chuck Schumer has killed it because he’s unwilling to permit all the sources of energy that America needs and he’s held hostage by the left wing of his party,” Barrasso said

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