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New Energy Efficient Vanadium Material Looks Like Scotch Tape, Acts Like Planet Hero

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Maybe it’s not too late to stop catastrophic climate change after all. Researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California have been mining the unglamorous world of energy efficient roofing for solutions, and last week they came up with a simple vanadium-based roof coating that can both cool and warm a building as needed. There being no such thing as a free lunch, there has to be a catch, and there is: where is all the vanadium going to come from?

Electric Cars Good, Energy Efficient Buildings Good, Too

For all the attention lavished on the latest zero emission electric cars (raises hand) as a planet saving replacement for gasmobiles, energy efficient buildings should also get some love. As with the transportation sector, buildings are a leading contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, at least here in the US. Let’s have our friends over at the US Department of Energy explain:

“The buildings sector accounts for about 76% of electricity use and 40% of all U. S. primary energy use and associated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, making it essential to reduce energy consumption in buildings in order to meet national energy and environmental challenges and to reduce costs to building owners and tenants.”

If you separate electricity generation out of the mix and only focus on the end use in buildings, which is what the US Environmental Protection Agency does, the numbers drop considerably. However, that’s just a different perspective on the same problem, which is that buildings use a lot of energy

The good news is that energy efficient technology is not rocket science.

“Opportunities for improved efficiency are enormous. By 2030, building energy use could be cut more than 20% using technologies known to be cost effective today,” the Energy Department observes, adding that new technology could pile another 15% savings on top of that, or more.

Saving The Planet, One Energy Efficient Roof At A Time

That brings us to the new research at Berkeley Lab. The team was searching for a way to make “cool roof” coatings work across a broader range of temperatures when they hit on a solution based on vanadium.

The cool roof movement focuses on painting rooftops white or using other materials that deflect heat in warm weather, which lowers the interior temperature and avoids higher energy use for air conditioning or fans. The problem is that the same cool roof deflects sunlight in cold weather, robbing the household of the natural warmth from sunlight and bumping up the use of energy for home heating.

Berkeley Lab has come up with the solution: a new energy efficient material based on vanadium, called TARC for temperature-adaptive radiative cooling.

“Our all-season roof coating automatically switches from keeping you cool to warm, depending on outdoor air temperature. This is energy-free, emission-free air conditioning and heating, all in one device,” enthuses Berkeley Lab lead researcher Junqiao Wu, who is on the faculty at the lab’s Materials Sciences Division and a professor of materials science and engineering at UC-Berkeley.

How Does It Work?

Vanadium is a silvery transition metal, not to be confused with vibranium. It pops up regularly on the CleanTechnica radar mainly on account of its use in flow battery technology. In addition to safety and durability advantages, vanadium has multiple charge states, meaning that you can make a flow battery with just vanadium instead of having to deploy two different materials.

Most metals heat up when they conduct electricity, but vanadium does not heat up much at all, and that’s the key to the whole thing.

“Vanadium dioxide below about 67 degrees Celsius (153 degrees Fahrenheit) is also transparent to (and hence not absorptive of) thermal-infrared light. But once vanadium dioxide reaches 67 degrees Celsius, it switches to a metal state, becoming absorptive of thermal-infrared light,” Berkeley Lab adds.

“This ability to switch from one phase to another — in this case, from an insulator to a metal — is characteristic of what’s known as a phase-change material,” they explain.

The team fabricated samples that resemble Scotch tape, tested them, and combined their data with other data sets to model the results for buildings representing 15 climate zones in the continental US.

The results were impressive. Although TARC still reflects about 75% of sunlight for the year in total, it deflects more heat in warmer weather, and it retains more heat in colder weather.

“With TARC installed, the average household in the U.S. could save up to 10% electricity,” said Kechao Tang, a  co-lead author of the study (formerly a  postdoctoral researcher in the Wu lab, Tang is currently an assistant professor at Peking University in China).

The Fight For The Vanadium Roof Of The Future

Don’t hold your breath for TARC to show up in the toolkit of your friendly neighborhood roofer any time soon. The team still has to scale up the prototype and determine if it really is a practical solution.

By practical, they may be thinking of who’s gonna get all the vanadium together. Vanadium is an earth-abundant material but as of just a few years ago, the domestic supply of vanadium in the US was lagging.

Regardless, the vanadium flow battery field started to pick up steam around 2014 with support from the US Department of Energy and it shows no signs of slowing down. If that energy efficiency vanadium roof business really does take off, the roofers will have to fight the battery makers for a cut of the supply chain, and both of them will have to beat down the metallurgical industry, which accounted for more than 90% of vanadium usage in the US as of 2019.

Meanwhile, vanadium production is picking up here in the US. Some of the activity involves refining raw material shipped in from overseas (hello, U.S. Vanadium company). As of 2019, the US Geological Survey noted that “small quantities” were also being produced from various domestic sources including uraniferous sandstones on the Colorado as well as waste materials such as petroleum residues, spent catalysts, utility ash, and pig iron slag.

If all goes according to plan you can add spent vanadium flow batteries to the supply chain. U.S. Vanadium claims a 97% recovery rate for recycling the vanadium-based electrolyte from its flow batteries.

The next steps for Berkeley Lab’s energy efficient roof coating also involve getting the funds together to continue the research, and things just got a bit stickier now that US Senator and coal stakeholder Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) has almost single-handedly tanked the stock market and blown up President Biden’s signature Build Back Better climate action bill.

The Energy Department was counting on Build Back Better funds to ramp up its funding for R&D focusing on energy efficient buildings among other clean technologies, but that appears to have evaporated after Manchin declared he will not vote for the bill during an appearance Sunday on a Fox News program.

All is not lost, though. Help may be coming from an unlikely source. The United Mine Workers of America has been shifting into energy transition mode, and earlier this year the union came down on the side of creating new green jobs for union workers.

To be clear, UMWA continues to advocate for keeping coal jobs in the mix, Still, the point is that coal workers are — or should be — a constituency for a US Senator representing the iconic coal-producing state of West Virginia.

Senator Manchin has just poked his own constituents in the eye by killing off the extension of the child tax credit, among other aid to working coal families and retirees in the Build Back Better bill, aside from choking off that thing about new green jobs for unemployed coal workers.

Apparently UMWA is not taking this lying down. On Monday the union issued a polite but blunt statement detailing all the reasons why Build Back Better should pass.

“We urge Senator Manchin to revisit his opposition to this legislation and work with his colleagues to pass something that will help keep coal miners working, and have a meaningful impact on our members, their families, and their communities,” they concluded.

Of course, none of this would matter if just one Senator from the Republican side of the aisle would step in to replace Manchin’s vote. Looking at you, Republican US Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia. After all, why should Manchin take all the blame when all 50 Republican senators have also dug in their heels, including one representing his own home state.

It looks like UMWA has a message for both of them.

“I also want to reiterate our support for the passage of voting rights legislation as soon as possible, and strongly encourage Senator Manchin and every other Senator to be prepared to do whatever it takes to accomplish that,” the UMWA statement concludes, adding that “Anti-democracy legislators and their allies are working every day to roll back the right to vote in America. Failure by the Senate to stand up to that is unacceptable and a dereliction of their duty to the Constitution.”

Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.

Photo: Kaichen Dong (left) and Jiachen Li adjust a Pulsed Laser Deposition (PLD) device used to develop the TARC smart-roof coating for energy efficient buildings (credit: Thor Swift/Berkeley Lab).

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Tesla’s Policy Lead Testifies at PUCT Open Meeting As Tesla Focuses on Supporting the Texas Grid

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Tesla’s US Energy Markets Policy Lead, Arushi Sharma Frank, was recently asked to testify at a Public Utility Commission of Texas Open Meeting. A photo of Frank wearing an LFDECARB tee shirt popped up on Twitter. The tee shirt itself is a message focused on decarbonization by the group Bros for Decarbonization. You can learn more about the group here.

Frank confirmed that it was an impromptu request to testify. She also shared exactly what she talked about.

The document Frank shared was a filing receipt for supplemental comments from Tesla signed by Frank. There’s also a video of her testimony which you can watch here. In the document, Tesla said that it appreciated the opportunity to share its comments regarding PUCT’s discussions that were held on June 16, 2022 — the open meeting regarding Tesla’s proposal OBDRR041 as well as its prior work demonstrating how virtual power plants (VPPs) work.

I recently published an article about Tesla’s VPP workshop, which was related to OBDRR041. Tesla also said that it appreciated the Commission’s comments related to its Distributed Energy Resource (DER) pilot projects. Tesla especially supported the conversation between Commission representatives and the staff at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), as well as with the market participants. The conversation covered the real implementation of the system through a pilot as opposed to a task force approach. The latter, Frank noted, could unnecessarily create delays in implementing a grid service solution for DERs.

Looking At The Document & Tesla’s Statements

The Commission’s decision to encourage ERCOT to get stakeholders together and develop a pilot project allowing the market solution of exports from VPPs to be tested is also something Tesla expressed its appreciation for. This allowed for addressing issues raised by utilities and other market participants that have concerns about the potential impacts of site-exporting DERs on distribution facilities. It also allowed for a discussion of the net impact and benefits to the transmission grid.

Tesla also clarified and provided information as a response to a few discussion topics and questions that were raised at the open meeting. These topics included the OBDRR041 status, the ERCOT Pilot Proposal, and a question posed to Tesla by Chairman Lake at the open meeting.

OBDRR041 status

Tesla noted that since the OBDRR041 is currently tabled at the ERCOT Technical Advisory Committee, it would not seek a vote until there was further development of issues and positions from ERCOT and the potential members of the committee.

“At this time, Tesla believes that OBDRR041 may remain tabled at the Technical Advisory Committee pending consideration of the feasibility of a Virtual Power Plant pilot as the Commission proposed at the Open Meeting.”

ERCOT Pilot Proposal

Tesla expressed its views on the formal ERCOT Pilot Proposal that was introduced at the Open Meeting. Tesla noted that for a formal ERCOT pilot approach to be a feasible alternative to OBDRR041, a pilot should :

Have ERCOT’s support and the market’s acceptance and approval from ERCOT’s governing board.
Be amenable to commercialization in that sufficient participants could be aggregated across sufficient distribution service areas (more than one, but in capped quantities, in each service area as described in a proposed pilot framework).
Adequately capture data addressing clearly identified distribution utility concerns, in parallel to or as part of the pilot’s scope.
Have provisions to ensure market services compensation commensurate with grid services provided by pilot participants
Have an identified “start date” and “end date” which are technically feasible for involved parties.

In addition to that last point, Tesla added that the following are requirements in Section 25.361 (k) regarding pilot development and approval:

“ERCOT may conduct a pilot project upon approval of the scope and purposes of the pilot project by the governing board of ERCOT. Proposals for approval of pilot projects shall be made to the governing board only by ERCOT staff, after consultation with affected market participants and commission staff designated by the executive director.

“The ERCOT governing board shall ensure that there is an opportunity for adequate stakeholder review and comment on any proposed pilot project.”

Tesla noted that pilot  project proposals approved by the ERCOT governing board should include the following:

The scope and purposes of the pilot project;
The designation of temporary exceptions from ERCOT rules that ERCOT expects to authorize as part of the pilot project;
Criteria and reporting mechanisms to determine whether and when ERCOT should propose changes to ERCOT rules based on the results of a pilot project.
An estimate of costs ERCOT will incur attributable to the pilot project.
An estimated date of completion of the pilot project.

Tesla’s Response To Chairman Lake

Tesla expressed its appreciation for Chairman Lake, who stated that “nothing teaches like experience, so the sooner you get something in the field, the more you learn faster.”

Tesla also responded to a question posed by the chairman and said that it’s concerned that it will not be able to scope a pilot program in a Non-Opt-in-Entity (NOIE) area. Currently, Texas homeowners are unable to participate in VPPs due to the law. Tesla said:

“Primarily, this approach may not be economically rational as it could mean a substantial resource investment in a pilot that is not scalable to a commercial retail offer where Tesla could continue to directly serve those customers and grow the program’s strength and viability.

“The customers in a pilot should be able to continue to benefit from the value for their systems beyond the end-date of the pilot, in a commercially viable solution – but with a NOIE-only pilot, Tesla would have no control, legally or otherwise, over the continued participation of such customers once the pilot closes, even if a viable market participation framework is implemented following that pilot’ s conclusion.

“Any formal program participation of those customers would be solely at the option of the NOIE serving those customers. More simply, the purpose of a pilot is to study a solution that can be scaled following adoption of market rules based on pilot learnings. To build a program off the learnings of a pilot, the customer base involved in the pilot should be able to continue service under that formalized program, so that parties involved are not running the risk of raising a wholly new set of unstudied issues in a new distribution system type that was not part of the pilot.”

Frank also shared a link to over 60 pages of data from Tesla. Deep dive coming soon.

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Coalition Calls for EU Hydrogen Quota for Shipping

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Energy providers, shipping companies and NGOs call on the EU to introduce a minimum quota of 6% sustainable and scalable hydrogen fuels by 2030

A broad coalition of energy providers, shipping companies and NGOs — including Siemens Energy, Viking Cruises, Green Power Denmark and Brussels-based organisations Hydrogen Europe and Transport & Environment (T&E) — has called on the EU to introduce a minimum quota of 6% sustainable and scalable hydrogen fuels by 2030.

Last year the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, proposed a shipping fuel law (FuelEU Maritime Regulation) aimed at increasing the uptake of alternative marine fuels. Unfortunately, the law fails to guarantee the competitiveness of sustainable and scalable e-fuels, and risks promoting cheaper, unsustainable fuels. The coalition therefore calls on the European Parliament and EU Council to improve the proposal by including a dedicated e-fuels sub quota in the proposed regulation.

Delphine Gozillon, sustainable shipping officer at T&E, said:

“An ambitious shipping fuels law will be key to set the shipping sector on course for full decarbonisation. Sustainable e-fuels are currently too expensive compared to other alternatives such as fossil LNG and biofuels, holding back investments in production facilities, refuelling infrastructure in ports and zero-emission ships. However, with a bit of a push e-fuels produced from renewable hydrogen can be scalable. That’s why we need a quota to get the ball rolling and encourage companies to start investing in clean shipping fuels. Shipping does not need to be a dirty industry forever.”

A list of all the coalition’s demands can be found here.

Download the letter.

Courtesy of Transport & Environment.

Featured image courtesy of Maersk.

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Diving Into Tesla’s 60+ Pages of PUCT Filings (Mostly Data)

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Tesla has over 60 pages of Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUCT) filings that have recently been shared publicly, and we’re about to dive into them. Grab some water and a coffee and let’s go.

Tesla and its team, including its US Energy Markets Policy Lead, Arushi Sharma Frank, have been working hard to help Texan Powerwall customers be able to take part in virtual power plant (VPP) pilot programs. In May, Tesla held a VPP workshop for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) and Frank was one of the key leaders hosting the meeting.

Recently, Frank was asked to testify at an open meeting of the PUCT, and there she shared Tesla’s comments and statements addressing questions and other concerns relating to VPPs.

Frank tweeted a thank you to the PUCT for the opportunity of allowing Tesla to provide comments. In addition, she followed up with two more tweets, with one mentioning her favorite part of the filings — Tesla describing a phenomenon called “clumping.” Clumping is a reference to capturing the full value of distributed energy renewables capacity in an aggregate load resource (ALR).

63 Pages Of Data For PUCT

In total, there were 63 pages. I’m only going to go over some of the data briefly. I think it’s important to highlight Tesla’s hard work because if Texas allows its residents who own Powerwall batteries systems to participate in VPPs, this opens the door for other states in the Deep South to at least consider clean energy solutions for various problems, especially grid-related. Texas is well known for its grid instability, and if it allows Tesla Powerwall customers to take part in VPPs, this could mean saving lives during disasters.

Included in the filings were comments from Tesla, a request from Tesla that the Commission direct ERCOT to prioritize several actions such as allowing ALRs (Aggregated Load Resources) to provide injection capacity from individual sites in a framework by December 2022, an informal narrative of Tesla’s VPP demonstration in ERCOT, and 47 slide pages detailing the ERCOT/Tesla ancillary service demonstration.

I think the most important part for us outsiders observing here is the 47 slides, because they highlighted a lot of data that shows just how the Texas grid will benefit from VPPs. The 47 slides showed several key meetings between Tesla and ERCOT about the demo program.

Key Meeting Between Tesla & ERCOT Shows Tesla Has Been Working Hard Trying To Convince Texas To Allow VPPs

In March, there were four meetings in which Tesla defined clumping, Frank’s favorite part, as well as two telemetry signal approaches. Following that were weekly meetings around the demo results with the last demo result being April 15, 2022. On April 9, Tesla and ERCOT revisited clumping and the two telemetry signals approach.

This tells me and anyone paying close attention that Tesla has been quietly working with ERCOT to help the Texas grid for quite some time. This, I think, is a good thing, especially for Texas.

Tesla Seeks To Register The First ALR In ERCOT

According to the documents, Tesla wants to register the first ALR in ERCOT and participate in services that are currently unavailable. These services include non-spin and sCED load reduction dispatch. Tesla wants to do this with the full value of grid services that injecting devices can provide in an ALR.

Tesla said that it will lead efforts to modify the utility’s ALR Policy Other Binding Document to make it fit with practical operational, registration, and qualification issues. It clarified that ERCOT can exchange two telemetry points with an aggregation-qualified scheduling entity (QSE).

Tesla ERCOT Demo Tests

Tesla’s first demo looked at the comparison of battery and premise-level telemetry. Below is a chart showing the initial conditions, test steps, data collected, and pass criteria.

Table courtesy of Tesla

This first test results show that VPPs work beautifully in Texas. According to the results, the load decreased during the evening while in the morning it decreased while exporting to the grid. And during the daytime, the exporting of energy to the grid only increased. Tesla explained further:

“Discharging from the customer’s battery using a step function can clearly be identified in the premise-level data.

“At different times of day, premise-level data will look differently, depending on the current load:

1. Evening time: during the evening peak, user load is typically high, and discharging the battery will show up as a decrease in premise-level load.

2. Morning time: during the night/morning time, user load is typically lower, and discharging the battery will both decrease load, and export energy to the grid.

3. Daytime: during the daytime, solar is exporting to the grid, and discharging the battery will increase the export.”

You can view the full demo, test results, and all of Tesla’s comments here.

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