NRG

NRG Energy Is As Committed As Ever To Sustainability

(3BL/JustMeans) When you are the leading integrated energy company with a firm commitment to sustainable energy, announcing a new plan to transform your business might shake up stakeholders. NRG Energy is that company, and its recent announcement of its transformation plan caused some stakeholders to query the company about its commitment to being a sustainable energy company.

The Uncertain Future of Large Scale Solar Thermal Power Plants

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - Last week, I wrote about my visit to the Shams-1 hybrid thermal solar-natural gas plant in Abu Dhabi. This 100MW plant, which combines concentrated solar power (CSP) with natural gas, is capable of generating power around the clock. The plant’s technical support manager, Abdulazoz Al Obaidli, said that it was unclear whether more plants like this one would be built, seeing as how new solar photovoltaic plants were challenging this technology on both price and efficiency. Improvements could also be realized with this approach, but it’s unclear, especially given the long lead times for building a plant like this, what the comparison will be down the road.

While CSP plants are basically steam plants with mirrors, photovoltaics are semi-conductors which have a tendency to follow something called Moore’s Law that has seen performance doubling and costs dropping at regular intervals like clockwork. And though we tend to think of PV in terms of small rooftop installations, there are, in fact 19 PV plants of 100MW or more, the largest being the Topaz Solar Farm in San Luis Obispo, CA, which weighs in at 550MW.

While the matter is far from settled, there are a number of other challenges facing CSP, sometimes called solar thermal plants, which use the heat of the sun to produce steam, unlike photovoltaics that convert sunlight directly in electricity. The CSP plants, given the thermal mass of fluids in the system, do produce more stable power and are thus better suited to baseline applications.

Utilities Dive into Home Energy Services and Products

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - We’ve written in the past about the challenges facing the utility industry, with Barclay’s downgrading the entire industry as a poor investment prospect. The phenomenon of grid defection, customers cutting their ties with the utility in favor of a solar array with batteries, or a grid-tied system enabled through net metering is taking its toll on profitability. Traditional electric utility business models have rather suddenly become an endangered species. Not that the companies will necessarily disappear. Some might, of course, but those that remain will look very different than they do today.

Take a look at NRG, one of the nation’s largest power companies, operating in the Midwest, that has traditionally burned coal for about a third of its power. CEO David Crane, who has a degree in Public Policy from Princeton and a law degree from Harvard, has apparently seen the writing on the wall. The company has taken dramatic steps over the past year including natural gas conversions and plant closings to reduce its dependence on coal. One plant is even being converted to run on low-sulphur diesel. When combined, these changes will result in a 25% reduction of coal purchases.

There was a time not long ago when such moves would be considered iconoclastic for such a staid industry. But that is just the beginning of this latest chapter in the NRG story. Last week NRG announced the acquisition of Goal Zero, a manufacturing start-up that produces small solar charged battery packs. Their products are popular in big box sporting goods stores, ranging from solar powered speakers for camping to 1250 Watt-hour solar home generators.

“It allows us to expand the opportunity of solar,” said Crane. “Our ultimate goal is to energize people wherever they are.”

It sounds reasonable enough, though it’s a big move for a utility company to start selling consumer products. That might just be what it takes to stay afloat in this changing world.

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