U.S. Energy Innovation Week in Review: July 7-13, 2014

This week includes passage of the House Appropriations energy-water bill, new lithium-ion battery discoveries, electric vehicles qualifying under the Renewable Fuel Standard, a new building energy efficiency competition, and vertical integration in the solar photovoltaic industry:

  • The House passed its $34 billion energy-water spending bill that maintains funding for DOE’s loan guarantee program. The funding bill, which passed 253-170, provided $347 million more than President Obama requested for 2015. It would block enforcement of light-efficiency regulations and cuts renewable energy funds by $111 million, leaving less clean energy spending than Obama’s budget request. The cuts are made to these programs to reallocate resources for fossil fuel science energy research. Overall, $10.3 billion was appropriated for DOE energy and science programs. Numerous amendments were proposed in relation to the bill, some of the most controversial being amendments related to the loan portfolio, spending over offshore drilling permits, exemptions for agricultural activities under the Clean Water Act, and other climate-related amendments. It is unlikely that the bill will be taken up by the Senate.
  • Scientists from multiple U.S. Department of Energy national labs, including Lawrence Berkeley, Brookhaven, SLAC, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, discovered new evolution and degradation patterns of lithium-ion batteries, which are paving the way for development of lithium-ion batteries that can store much more energy. The research, supported by DOE’s Office of Science, brings silicon into the mix, which has the potential to make its way into commercial devices and lower costs. Lithium-ion batteries support many of today’s grid-scale storage projects, and the breakthrough could better regulate grid frequency or reduce loads on stressed power lines.
  • U.S. EPA announced its decision to allow renewable electricity to qualify under the Renewable Fuel Standard if it is used to power electric vehicles. Under the new decision, entities can generate credits for electricity used to power electric vehicles, which provides a massive incentive for utilities to support electric vehicle use. In the past, incentives for electric vehicles have been consumer-geared rather than infrastructure-geared.
  • EPA launched the 2014 National Building Competition, or the Battle of the Buildings. This program not only encourages competition between companies to reduce their energy use, but also encourages partnerships among these companies. After measuring and tracking their energy consumption for a 12-month period, the team of companies that are able to reduce their buildings’ average energy use the most will be declared the winner. Buildings use 20% of the nation’s energy and are a large opportunity for needed innovation; the strategies that companies use will work to optimize and upgrade equipment and retrofit lighting. Energy savings realized from the competition could incentivize companies to develop alternative methods to increasing their building energy efficiency, such as low-emissivity windows.
  • SolarCity and SunPower both announced plans to become vertically integrated. The move to both supply panels and offer installation under one company roof could enhance the connection between technology innovation and end-user feedback. It also portends a competitive fight to lower the costs of solar resources, contributing to a market where these resources become increasingly competitive with other energy sources.