Sean Casten

Sean Casten is president & CEO of Recycled Energy Development, LLC, a company devoted to profitably reducing greenhouse emissions.

Things to Worry About in 2014: US Electric Grid Edition

The US electric sector is surprisingly easy to understand.  It’s big, capital-intensive, complicated and integral to our standard of living – which gives it a massive bias in favor of the status quo.  Neither its owners nor its regulators have any incentive to risk their money or their careers with sudden change.  This makes it fairly predictable: take what’s happening today, and assume that will continue indefinitely forward until such time as (a) we overshoot some fundamental technical constraint and/or (b) some regulatory action upends the balance of power in the industry. There have been several, noteworthy instances where regulatory …

How hard is it to integrate renewables into the grid?

In January, EEI said [PDF] that the incentives paid to renewable energy are going to jeopardize grid reliability and electricity costs.  Many enviros have responded that this represents nothing more than the utility industry’s naked self interest.  Who’s right? I’d suggest neither.  The true problem with the EEI report, as I pointed out here, is that they are confusing (perhaps intentionally) a pricing structure problem with a technology problem. There are technical issues, but they result from the structure of clean-energy incentives, not the technologies or the total volume of the incentive. So there’s an easy solution: change the structure by …

Climate & Energy

Solar grows up — now what?

Solar has grown up and earned a seat at the big kids table. But that means the fights are going to get nastier.

Thoughts on economic growth and energy slaves

Increased access to energy seems responsible for much of the economic growth of the last two centuries. That raises an unsettling question about future growth.

EPA’s Boiler MACT Is an Economic Growth Opportunity

The new EPA air toxics standards, or “Boiler MACT” will tighten the pollution allowances for industrial (e.g., non-utility) coal boilers, and are widely and consistently being criticized as a threat to a still-fragile economy.  This criticism is coming from the usual corners (Inhofe, US Chamber of Commerce, etc.).  Meanwhile big-name engineering firms are turning out studies for affected industrials that say some variant of “you can install back end pollution controls that will reduce your fuel efficiency, you can switch your boiler to run on higher cost, cleaner fuels or you can shut down your manufacturing plant.” They’re all wrong.  …

Wind Power

How wind power fits into our energy diet

Wind is a critical part of a clean and reliable energy future. But only in moderation, as part of a balanced grid diet.

The U.S. electricity mix in 20 years: A prediction

What will the U.S. power mix look like in 10 to 20 years? It’s impossible to predict for certain, of course, because there’s no way to know what regulators will do. Given the heavily regulated nature of the electric sector, even in so-called “deregulated” markets, surprises tend to come from regulatory reform, not innovation. (The U.S. electric grid has shown itself capable of rapid, large-scale transformation in response to regulations.) Nevertheless, there is insight to be gained from thinking through how the generation mix would evolve in the absence of regulatory reform. Despite the lengthy time required to design, finance, …

Energy Policy

Why electricity markets will never be (totally) free

Over the past few years, the U.S. electricity grid has begun a massive, underappreciated, and largely unintentional transition away from coal to natural gas. Because nobody decided on a shift to gas, or directed such a shift, many people have mistaken the transition for the outcome of a “free market.” It’s an easy mistake to make, since electricity markets do bear some superficial resemblance to competitive markets; we have spot prices, liquid markets, and no central planner telling us what to do. However, the shifting power mix derives much more from regulatory choices than from markets. (For that reason, future …

Wind Power

Bonneville Power unfairly favored hydro over wind, rules FERC

Photo: Vlasta JuricekThe Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has ruled that the Bonneville Power Association (BPA) unfairly discriminated against wind turbine owners when it curtailed the production of power from wind assets last spring in response to high hydro production. Wind owners are understandably happy, having argued that BPA was essentially favoring hydro over wind. The technical argument went like this: BPA entered into contracts to sell all of the power available from their generators; if BPA (or any other grid operator) has the ability to unilaterally curtail wind generation, it would reduce the effective value of future wind contracts …

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