Renewable Energy News

New report sheds light on residential solar adoption in terms of access and equity

Renewable Energy - Mon, 2021-04-12 11:24
Solar-adopter incomes presently skew high in all states, but, as with the national trends, that skew has diminished over time in most states.

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory released a report last week that highlights income, demographic, and other socio-economic trends among U.S. residential rooftop solar adopters. Galen Barbose, Sydney Forrester, Eric O’Shaughnessy, and Naïm Darghouth authored the report.

The latest edition in an annual series, the study is based on address-level income and other demographic estimates for roughly 1.9 million residential rooftop solar adopters across the country, representing 82% of all U.S. systems installed through 2019. The study updates and expands upon previous editions, describing solar-adopter income trends as well as trends in home-value, credit score, education, occupation, rural vs. urban, race and ethnicity, and age.

The report complements and informs other ongoing work at Berkeley Lab surrounding issues of solar energy access and equity, including an online data visualization tool, analyses around drivers and potential solutions to solar-energy adoption inequities, and technical assistance to other organizations.

Key findings

Solar adopters generally skew towards higher incomes, though that trend continues to diminish over time. Nationally, solar adopters’ median household income was roughly $113,000 in 2019, compared to the U.S. median of $64,000, or $74,000 if comparing just to owner-occupied households (Figure 1, left). That disparity has narrowed over time, with the gap between median incomes for solar adopters and all households shrinking by roughly one-third, from $72,000 in 2010 to $49,000 in 2019 (Figure 1, right). That downward trend in solar-adopter incomes is associated primarily with third-party owned (TPO) systems, as median adopter incomes for host-owned systems have remained relatively flat over time.

The incomes of people who go solar vary considerably and encompass many low-to-moderate income (LMI) households. Notwithstanding the general skew toward higher incomes, solar adopters span all income ranges, according to the report. Among 2019 adopters, 42% had household incomes below 120% of their area median income (AMI), a benchmark sometimes used to define LMI households, while 21% were below 80% of AMI, a more-stringent threshold often used to define low-income.

Those percentages have risen over time, as solar adopters have trended toward lower income households (Fig. 2, left). Solar-adopter incomes also vary considerably from state-to-state, with median solar-adopter incomes ranging from roughly $70k to $140k and from 104% to 162% of AMI (Fig. 2, right). That state-level variation partly reflects general geographical differences in income levels and income inequality within the broader population, but characteristics of state and local solar markets play some role as well (as other work by Berkeley Lab has sought to show). To be sure, solar-adopter incomes presently skew high in all states, but, as with the national trends, that skew has diminished over time in most states. Solar-adopter incomes also vary across individual installers, but skew high for almost all firms.

Solar-adopter incomes are consistently higher for systems paired with battery storage, for host-owned systems, and for systems installed on single-family homes. Median incomes are 22% higher for adopters of paired solar-plus-storage systems compared to stand-alone solar adopters within the same area, reflecting the additional cost of adding storage.

Consistent with prior work, the study also reaffirms that incomes are higher for systems that are owned by the homeowner, compared to third-party owned, by 23% when comparing among adopters in the same area. Finally, median solar-adopter incomes are 37% higher for systems installed on single-family homes compared to multi-family homes in the same area. In fact, the median income of multi-family solar adopters in 2019 was roughly equivalent to AMI.

Solar adopters differ from the broader U.S. population in terms of a variety of other demographic and socioeconomic measures. In addition to having relatively high incomes, solar adopters also tend to live in higher-value homes, have higher credit scores, have more education, be older, and are more likely to work in business and finance-related occupations than the U.S. population as a whole. As with the trend in income, however, those differences are generally diminishing over time. Solar-adopters also are less rural than the U.S. population as a whole, with 14% of solar adopters in 2019 living in U.S. Census-defined rural areas, compared to 19% of the total U.S. population. Those national trends largely reflect the fact that solar adopters skew toward less-rural states. At the individual state-level, solar adopters are typically more rural than the overall state population.

Solar-adopters tend to live in neighborhoods with relatively high non-Hispanic White and Asian populations, and with relatively low Hispanic and Black populations, compared to the rest of their state. Data on race and ethnicity of individual solar adopters were unavailable for this study, and so adopters were instead characterized based on the composition of their Census block group.

Comparing solar adopters to all households on a state-by-state basis shows that solar adopters tend to live in block groups with relatively high non-Hispanic White populations (Fig. 3, left), as well as relatively high Asian populations, and with relatively low Hispanic and Black populations (see full report for supporting details).

On a national basis, solar adopters would appear to live in block groups with relatively large Hispanic and Asian populations, and with relatively low White and Black populations, compared to all U.S. households (Fig. 3, right). However, those percentages are driven heavily by the fact that roughly half all adopters are in California, which has a very different makeup than the U.S. as a whole.

The authors will also host a webinar highlighting key findings from this study on April 22, 2021, at 11:00 AM Pacific/2:00 PM Eastern. Register for the webinar here.

Categories: Renewable Energy

Clean energy stock deflation and Biden’s infrastructure plan

Renewable Energy - Mon, 2021-04-12 01:54

Last month saw buying opportunities in some clean energy stocks as the bubble created from the euphoria over Biden’s election vanished as if it never happened.

Clean energy stocks have simply returned to the general upward trendline from the second and third quarter of 2020.  Rather than bursting in a market panic, this seems to have been more of a general deflation.

Some clean energy stocks seem reasonably priced, but there are no great values like we often see during the market panics which typically follow bubbles.  Without a panic, I’m not ready to buy aggressively.  Stocks in general continue to trade at fairly high valuations, and rising interest rates or some other market disruption could still trigger a sell-off.

Performance of the 10 Clean Energy Stocks for 2021 model portfolio through the end of March, vs benchmarks. Note the Clean energy benchmark RNRG is down 11.6% while the broad market benchmark SDY is up 13.7%.
Biden’s Infrastructure Plan

Biden’s infrastructure plan includes significant funding for clean energy. It would make tax credits refundable and extend them, and includes an offshore wind push.  It also includes significant measures to improve the long neglected electric grid, and electric vehicle charging.

Solar and wind manufacturers will benefit from the tax credit extensions, but this may not be that significant for any one company because most sell globally.  The US is a large market for solar and wind, but not so large that it’s a dominant player.  Renewable energy developers are more likely to see a significant impact.  

In the 10 Clean Energy Stocks for 2021 list, Brookfield Renewable (BEP) and Avangrid (AGR) both have significant development arms, so robust support for renewable energy may enable them to increase their growth rates.  Of the two, Avangrid is particularly well placed because it also develops offshore wind and electricity transmission and distribution networks.  Avangrid’s offshore wind development, Vineyard Wind, had been suffering delays due to roadblocks put up by the Trump administration.  Now it seems to be on the fast track.

The best Biden infrastructure pick in the list is Eneti (NETI).  As a future owner of offshore wind turbine installation vessels, a booming offshore wind industry and the long lead time for building such vessels should put it in a very good position when its first vessel is delivered in 2023.  I expect the company will exercise some of its options to buy more before then so that it will have a robust pipeline of new vessels being delivered in subsequent years.

The ethanol industry and Green Plains Partners (GPP) are also benefiting from the change of administration, with the EPA taking steps to limit Renewable Fuel Standard waivers given to oil refineries.  GPP is also benefiting from an investment by an activist hedge fund, which believes the stock is undervalued, as I noted for my Patreon supporters on March 10th.

Conclusion

The changed political climate gives reason to be hopeful about clean energy stocks, especially now that much of the air has been let out of the bubble that began with Biden’s election.  However, overall stock market valuations are still high, and rising interest rates are a drag on the income stocks I focus on.  

Cautious buying of better clean energy stock values seems warranted, but the emphasis should be on “cautious” not “buying.”  Make sure to keep significant cash in reserve.

DISCLOSURE: Long positions all the 10 Clean Energy Stocks for 2021 model portfolio.

DISCLAIMER: Past performance is not a guarantee or a reliable indicator of future results.  This article contains the current opinions of the author and such opinions are subject to change without notice.  This article has been distributed for informational purposes only. Forecasts, estimates, and certain information contained herein should not be considered as investment advice or a recommendation of any particular security, strategy or investment product.  Information contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but not guaranteed.

Categories: Renewable Energy

U.S. Department of Energy announces Groundbreaking Hydro Prize winners

Renewable Energy - Fri, 2021-04-09 15:16

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO) has announced two winners of the Groundbreaking Hydro Prize, which challenged innovators to come up with new solutions to support hydropower project development by starting at square one — the foundation.

The foundation of a hydropower system provides structural stability, which is essential to dam safety. However, foundation design and construction can pose significant challenges that could jeopardize a project’s success.

The prize was developed by WPTO, in collaboration with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), to incentivize innovators to develop concepts to cut costs and project delays associated with small hydropower project development.

Part of the American-Made Challenge series, the prize solicited solutions to address key challenges faced in one or more of the three hydropower foundation development phases: geotechnical site assessment, foundation design and foundation construction. The prize was open to a multidisciplinary field of applicants, from those in hydropower and dam safety construction to advanced manufacturing and beyond.

Two teams were chosen as winners. The Groundbreaking Prize winner receives $50,000, while $25,000 goes to the Innovator Prize winner:

Groundbreaking Prize: GZA GeoEnvironmental Inc and Littoral Power Systems, Terra-Modular Project

Concept: Prefabrication of a modular hydropower foundation for a wide range of soils and substructures.

Innovator Prize: Team Chemventive, WaterJet Drill with a Deep Array of Anchor Cables Concept

Concept: Deep array of high-tension cables drilled through solid rock, using a water-jet drilling robot, to secure a steel dam in tension.

Categories: Renewable Energy

FERC should reject MISO extension request for electric storage resource

Renewable Energy - Fri, 2021-04-09 09:30

On March 4, MISO filed a request to extend the deadline to implement a market participation model for electric storage resources at FERC. This new request moves the implementation date from June 2022 to March 2025.

FERC should reject this request because the benefits of keeping wholesale rates just and reasonable with storage participation outweigh the costs of MISO parallel processing current and future market platforms. Electric storage can participate in the energy market and capacity market and provide ancillary services. That is the intent behind FERC Order 841, the notice for which was released in November 2016. Eight years is a long time to wait for any market participant.

Background

The main reason MISO gave the commission for requesting the extension is regarding scheduling constraints with their market upgrade project. MISO has been working at least since 2017 when MISO changed the project name from “evaluation” to “enhancement” and called it the “Market Systems Enhancement” program.

After March 4 filing, many stakeholder organizations filed a protest at FERC. What is surprising to MISO stakeholders is MISO did not present at any stakeholder committee before asking FERC for this extension. Moreover, when FERC Order 841 came out in Spring 2018 and MISO filed the compliance plan by Dec 2018, stakeholders expected MISO to fulfill its promise of going live with the 2022 date.

FERC might accept because of the issue at hand – Market Systems Enhancement (MSE) Project

MISO markets went live in 2005. Since then, ancillary services started in 2007, with MISO becoming a single balancing authority. After a decade of MISO market operations and integrating several major utilities in the south, MISO started down the path of scoping out a new market platform. This new market system would also address the technological capabilities of emerging technologies like storage.

So, FERC might accept MISO’s reasoning on moving ahead with MSE keeping the overall benefits of MISO market participants in mind.

But four more years is too long to wait for storage to participate in MISO markets

MISO insists that storage can now participate in its markets under a market product called Stored Energy Resource (SER) type II. SER type I applies to Beacon Power, like flywheels, which can participate in one particular ancillary service called regulating reserve.

But the problem with SER type II and ESR, the market participation model for complying with FERC Order 841, is that the latter provides electric storage resources with technical capabilities to participate in all of the MISO markets. Storage is not restricted to one service in the ancillary services market.

Waiting an additional 3 years (from 2022-2025) for the storage market to open up when MISO filed and got approval from FERC on Storage As a Transmission Only Asset (SATOA) is hard for non-transmission owners to swallow.

Meanwhile, hybrid interconnections and stand-alone storage is economical

While the benefit of a new market platform might be FERC’s reason to accept MISO’s extension request, FERC knows and must reconcile storage interconnection requests at MISO and other RTOs. Most of the storage interconnection requests at RTOs, including at MISO, are “hybrid” in nature – the same point of interconnection as solar or other renewable energy. FERC has a data request out for RTOs on hybrid interconnections, and the RTO responses are due July 2021.

In addition to hybrid resources, storage is economical on a stand-alone basis in the California market for capacity purposes and the New England forward capacity market. MISO has an upcoming 2021/22 planning resource auction. Capacity prices are announced on April 15. Storage can and should be able to participate in the capacity markets, and that is a good reason for FERC to reject MISO’s extension request.

Conclusion

Whenever an RTO asks for an extension request for compliance or an implementation plan, stakeholders’ general feeling is disbelief. Because RTOs have sufficient time before a FERC Order due to the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NOPR). At the same time, market software upgrades are not something that FERC might question or reject.

The question remains for renewable developers on how to proceed with their business plans if FERC accepts MISO’s request for the 2025 implementation date. What is the alternative to developers who have tied up capital in keeping their interconnection queue positions? FERC must reject MISO’s extension request for storage to participate in MISO markets.

Categories: Renewable Energy

The gas industry is trying to halt building electrification — let’s not let them succeed

Renewable Energy - Fri, 2021-04-09 02:54

By Brynn Furey

To repower our society with 100 percent renewable energy, we need to electrify our buildings. With electricity, we can hook our buildings up to a green grid that will eventually get all of its energy from the sun, the wind and the Earth. As they work to repower with clean energy, forward-looking cities, counties and towns, such as San FranciscoSeattle and New York City, are leading a growing movement to envision fossil fuel-free, electric buildings of the future.

To reach a clean energy future, however, we must stop burning fossil fuels in our homes and commercial buildings. Perhaps then, it’s not entirely surprising that the powerful gas industry is fighting tooth and nail to stop cities and municipalities from replacing in-building gas with electricity. They understand electric, no-gas buildings present them with an existential threat. 

According to NPR, the industry’s lobbyists are rushing to state legislatures across the country to halt the building electrification movement in its tracks. Correctly recognizing the existential threat posed to their industry by building electrification, they are trying to get ahead of the movement and proactively strip communities all across America of the freedom to restrict fossil fuel use in buildings. And unfortunately, because of the industry’s influence and power in state legislatures, their approach is working. 

Over the past two years, gas companies and other special interest groups have thrown their weight behind a series of bills across the country that would preempt efforts by local governments to limit the use of gas hookups in buildings. But preempting local control over energy decisions is just one tactic they are using to try to lock us into fossil fuel use despite its damaging impact on our health and our environment. The industry has also tried to undermine the power of local officials to influence the model building code set by the International Code Council (ICC).

The anti-clean energy bills they are backing in more than 16 states are dangerously vague, potentially far-reaching and advancing like a fast-moving prairie fire through their respective legislatures. Last year, this type of legislation successfully passed in four states — Arizona, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Tennessee — and so far this year, Arkansas, Kentucky and Utah have codified bills as well. 

It is well-documented that burning fossil fuels in our homes and businesses is bad for us and our planet. Burning fossil fuels in our homes pollutes the air we breathe outside as well as inside. Every time we turn on a gas-powered stove, air quality in our buildings worsens. Gas stoves alone may be exposing tens of millions of Americans to levels of indoor air pollution that would be illegal outdoors. This kind of air pollution is linked to health problems including respiratory illness, heart attack, stroke and cancer. 

Fossil fuel use in homes remains widespread. Three out of four American homes still directly burn fossil fuels for heating, hot water or to run appliances. In 2018, nearly 9 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions came from the direct combustion of fossil fuels. And the gas companies are doing everything in their power to keep it that way. 

But there is a different path forward. 

According to a new report from Environment America Research & Policy Center and U.S. PIRG Education Fund, efficient, electric technology is ready for widespread deployment across America. Electrifying a majority of our homes and businesses by 2050 could reduce net emissions by an amount equivalent to taking about 65 million cars off the road. That’s equal to getting rid of almost one-fourth of the total number of cars in the U.S. in 2019. That’s a lot of averted air pollution which means less asthma and less of the pollution that’s warming our planet in dangerous ways.

More and more, Americans are signing onto a vision of repowering our country with clean renewable energy. Wind and solar power continue to exceed expectations, and thanks to leadership at the state and local level, one in three Americans lives in a community committed to 100 percent renewable energy. And with advances in electric technologies like heat pumps, water heaters and induction stoves, clean efficient electric technologies are within reach for more and more people every day.  

America has all the tools we need to make our buildings fossil fuel-free, which is a vital step in reducing pollution and avoiding the worst impacts of climate change. But if gas companies have it their way, someday soon many Americans will live in a community that wants to act on climate by electrifying their homes, buildings and businesses — but can’t because the industry has tied their hands behind their back. 

As of today, anti-electric building bills are moving through the legislature in 12 states: Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, West Virginia and Wyoming. People living in those states can take action by calling their legislators to let them know that they do not support any effort to take away the right of their community to decide their own clean electric energy future.

Let’s not let special interests steamroll state lawmakers into trampling on the freedom of our local communities to choose a cleaner future for the people who live there. Our communities should maintain their right to choose efficient, electric buildings.

Brynn Furey is the Energy Conservation and Efficiency Associate for Environment America.

Categories: Renewable Energy

Global wind industry to deploy 1 TW of new capacity through 2030

Renewable Energy - Thu, 2021-04-08 15:17

Research firm Wood Mackenzie says it anticipates the global wind power industry will install 1 TW of new capacity between 2021 and 2030.

The world set a new record in wind installations in 2020 and saw a number of national and regional targets set for 2030, underscoring the important role of wind technology in the energy transition, according to Wood Mackenzie.

Despite the growth in the wind energy market, there is a need for the enactment of new policies or revision of existing targets to ensure increased uptake of wind.

Moreover, there is a need for increased collaboration between international lenders, energy project developers and both the private and public sectors to increase funding for wind energy project deployment.

The availability of government subsidies is also vital to accelerate uptake. This is evidenced by an increasing number of projects left partially completed in China, as developers claimed full capacity to capitalize on the onshore wind subsidy before it expired at the end of last year. This means for as long as there is enough financial support from governments, wind energy developers are able to move at a faster pace, a development that would result in more capacity being deployed.

2020 saw 114 GW of new wind capacity being added globally, representing an 82% increase year-over-year. China, the world’s largest market deployed 72 GW, which alone would have qualified as the most capacity added globally in a single year, although the majority of these projects were partially completed.

The rest of the world – excluding China – added nearly 43 GW in 2020, a 15% increase YoY. Significant contributions came from the US (+6,565 MW YoY), Brazil (+1,055 MW YoY), the Netherlands (+1,878 MW YoY), and Australia (+1,363 MW YoY).

Commenting on anticipated market trends through 2030, Luke Lewandowski, Wood Mackenzie research director, said: “China’s 1,200 GW target of wind and solar by 2030 will result in 408 GW of new wind capacity from 2021 to 2030, representing 41% of global build. Offshore capacity in the country will grow by 73 GW during this period, an 800% increase in installed capacity in this sector.”

Other Asia Pacific countries are expected to install 126 GW in capacity combined through 2030, with India accounting for almost 50% of the anticipated capacity.

Lewandowski, added: “Another key region that will spur wind power growth through 2030 is Europe. The EU’s decarbonisation plan will motivate 248 GW of new wind capacity over our 10-year outlook. Additionally, 66% of this capacity will be onshore due to larger turbine models unlocking space-constrained markets, the repowering of an aging fleet, and increased development in Eastern Europe.”

Between 2021 and 2030, new offshore capacity in the US is expected to average 4.5 GW per year and will comprise 40% of annual wind turbine build.

In Latin America, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Mexico will account for 90% of a record 16 GW of new capacity expected as the region intensifies coal retirement and as more commercial and industrial customers demand energy generated using clean resources. Moreover, the region is expected to record an increase in renewable energy auctions.

Categories: Renewable Energy

Virgin Group company to restore damaged 6.4-MW solar facility on St. Thomas

Renewable Energy - Thu, 2021-04-08 10:35

BMR Energy, a Virgin Group company and developer, owner, and operator of clean energy projects in the Caribbean and Latin America, announced today that it is starting construction of the 6.4-megawatt (MWp) Donoe Solar farm on St. Thomas.

The facility is expected to be completed and enter service in the fourth quarter of this year and will sell the power it generates to the Virgin Island Power and Water Authority (VIWAPA) under a newly negotiated 25-year Power Purchase Agreement.

“After Hurricane Irma destroyed the plant nearly four years ago, our team was eager to fully understand the failures of the prior design and installation and build it back stronger,” said Bruce Levy, CEO of BMR Energy. “We’ve considered design recommendations from experts throughout the industry and conducted wind tunnel tests on all systems and equipment. With this resilient design, the facility will be able to deliver reliable, clean energy to the local community for decades to come.”

The solar farm will be constructed on the site of a former solar facility that experienced significant damage during the 2017 hurricane season. BMR purchased site of the original solar farm in the summer of 2020 and said it will incorporate new features to increase its resiliency and the ability to withstand future windstorms on the new solar facility.

The Solar farm will include more than 14,000 photovoltaic modules and has been designed with strengthened racking, foundations and module connection systems to withstand wind speeds up to 180 mph.

“WAPA welcomes the opportunity to enter another partnership with BMR Energy as we endeavor to diversify our generation mix. While this agreement increases the volume of solar energy we capture for electrical generation, this and other renewable projects set WAPA on a path to lower operating costs and reduced reliance on fossil fuel. These reductions will ultimately translate to savings for our customers,” said Interim Executive Director / CEO Noel Hodge.

This will be the second project BMR Energy will operate to provide electricity for the utility.

The Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority is an autonomous agency of the Virgin Islands Government that produces and distributes electricity and drinking water to residential and commercial customers in the territory.

Categories: Renewable Energy

Move over, corn and soybeans: The next biofuel source could be giant sea kelp

Renewable Energy - Thu, 2021-04-08 07:42

 By Diane Kim, USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences; Ignacio Navarrete, USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, and Jessica Dutton, USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

The Research Brief is a short take about interesting academic work.

The big idea

Giant kelp, the world’s largest species of marine algae, is an attractive source for making biofuels. In a recent study, we tested a novel strategy for growing kelp that could make it possible to produce it continuously on a large scale. The key idea is moving kelp stocks daily up to near-surface waters for sunlight and down to darker waters for nutrients.

Unlike today’s energy crops, such as corn and soybeans, growing kelp doesn’t require land, fresh water or fertilizer. And giant kelp can grow over a foot per day under ideal conditions.

Kelp typically grows in shallow zones near the coast, and thrives only where sunlight and nutrients are both plentiful. There’s the challenge: The ocean’s sunlit layer extends down about 665 feet (200 meters) or less below the surface, but this zone often doesn’t contain enough nutrients to support kelp growth.

Much of the open ocean surface is nutrient-poor year-round. In coastal areas, upwelling – deep water rising to the surface, bringing nutrients – is seasonal. Deeper waters, on the other hand, are rich in nutrients but lack sunlight.

Our study demonstrated that kelp withstood daily changes in water pressure as we cycled it between depths of 30 feet (9 meters) and 262 feet (80 meters). Our cultivated kelp acquired enough nutrients from the deeper, dark environment to generate four times more growth than kelp that we transplanted to a native coastal kelp habitat.

“Farming” kelp in the ocean could produce abundant material for making sustainable biofuel. Why it matters

Making biofuels from terrestrial crops such as corn and soybeans competes with other uses for farmland and fresh water. Using plants from the ocean can be more sustainable, efficient and scalable.

Marine biomass can be converted into different forms of energy, including ethanol, to replace the corn-derived additive that currently is blended into gasoline in the U.S. Perhaps the most appealing end-product is bio-crude – oil derived from organic materials. Bio-crude is produced through a process called hydrothermal liquefaction, which uses temperature and pressure to convert materials like algae into oils.

These oils can be processed in existing refineries into bio-based fuels for trucks and planes. It’s not practical yet to run these long-distance transportation modes on electricity because they would require enormous batteries.

By our calculations, producing enough kelp to power the entire U.S. transportation sector would require using just a small fraction of the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone – the ocean area out to 200 nautical miles from the coastline.

How we do our work

Our work is a collaboration between the USC Wrigley Institute and Marine BioEnergy Inc., funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s ARPA-E MARINER (Macroalgae Research Inspiring Novel Energy Resources) program. The research team includes biologists, oceanographers and engineers, working with scuba divers, vessel operators, research technicians and students.

We tested kelp’s biological response to depth cycling by attaching it to an open ocean structure we call the “kelp elevator,” designed by the team’s engineers. The elevator is anchored near the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center on California’s Catalina Island. A solar-powered winch raises and lowers it daily to cycle the kelp between deep and shallow water.

We depth-cycled 35 juvenile kelp plants for three months and planted a second set at a nearby healthy kelp bed for comparison. To our knowledge, this was the first attempt to study the biological effects of physical depth cycling on kelp. Prior studies focused on artificially pumping deep nutrient-rich water to the surface.

A diver at the ‘kelp elevator.’
Maurice Roper, CC BY-ND What’s next

Our results suggest that depth cycling is a biologically viable cultivation strategy. Now we want to analyze factors that can increase yields, including timing, water depth and kelp genetics.

Many unknowns need further study, including processes for permitting and regulating kelp farms, and the possibility that raising kelp on a large scale could have unintended ecological consequences. But we believe marine biomass energy has great potential to help meet 21st-century sustainability challenges.

About the Authors

Diane Kim, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies and Senior Scientist, USC Wrigley Institute, USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences; Ignacio Navarrete, Postdoctoral Scholar and Research Associate, USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies, USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, and Jessica Dutton, Associate Director for Research, Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies / Adjunct Assistant Professor (Research), Environmental Studies Program, USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Categories: Renewable Energy

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