Elon Musk talks cars _ and humanity’s fate _ with governors

Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk responds to a question by Nevada Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval during the closing plenary session entitled "Introducing the New Chairs Initiative - Ahead" on the third day of the National Governors Association's meeting Saturday, July 15, 2017, in Providence, R.I. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

Associated Press

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) – Tesla CEO Elon Musk warned a bipartisan gathering of U.S. governors on Saturday that government regulation of artificial intelligence is needed because it’s a “fundamental risk to the existence of human civilization.”

But first, he asked for some governors to lift a different kind of regulation: state franchise dealership laws that ban the direct sale of his company’s electric cars to consumers.

Musk spoke broadly about solar energy, space travel, self-driving cars and other emerging technology during a question-and-answer session at the summer conference of the National Governors Association in Rhode Island.

Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk responds to a question by Nevada Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval during the closing plenary session entitled “Introducing the New Chairs Initiative – Ahead” on the third day of the National Governors Association’s meeting Saturday, July 15, 2017, in Providence, R.I. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

He also met privately with some governors, including Louisiana Democrat John Bel Edwards, who recently signed a law that Musk’s Palo Alto, California-based company says blocks it from selling cars there.

Edwards said Tesla asked for the one-on-one meeting with Musk, which was short.

“I just asked him to come down to Louisiana and sit down with us, sit down with the Louisiana Automobile Dealers Association and work out some sort of a compromise, which they have successfully done in other states,” Edwards said.

Allowing manufacturer-to-consumer sales also came up in meetings between Musk and two other governors – the conference’s host, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, and Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. Representatives for the two Democrats confirmed they had private meetings with Musk and the topic came up.

Musk didn’t address such rules in his public remarks, but he did speak about regulation generally – and reiterated his long-held argument that it is needed soon to protect humanity from being outsmarted by computers, or “deep intelligence in the network” that can start wars by manipulating information.

Pressed for more specific guidance by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, Musk said the first step is for government to get a better understanding of the fast-moving achievements in developing artificial intelligence technology.

“Once there is awareness, people will be extremely afraid, as they should be,” Musk said.

Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk addresses the closing plenary session entitled “Introducing the New Chairs Initiative – Ahead” on the third day of the National Governors Association’s meeting Saturday, July 15, 2017, in Providence, R.I. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk responds to a question by Nevada Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval during the closing plenary session entitled “Introducing the New Chairs Initiative – Ahead” on the third day of the National Governors Association’s meeting Saturday, July 15, 2017, in Providence, R.I. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

Nevada Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval takes off his tie as he tells Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk he planned to take it off when Musk was introduced during the closing plenary session entitled “Introducing the New Chairs Initiative – Ahead” on the third day of the National Governors Association’s meeting Saturday, July 15, 2017, in Providence, R.I. Musk, in a suit, is not wearing a tie. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk responds to a question by Nevada Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval during the closing plenary session entitled “Introducing the New Chairs Initiative – Ahead” on the third day of the National Governors Association’s meeting Saturday, July 15, 2017, in Providence, R.I. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

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Preparing for solar co-op

GALLIPOLIS — Neighbors in the Ohio Valley area have formed a solar co-op to save money and make going solar easier, while building a network of solar supporters. OVEC, the Marshall University Sustainability Department, the League of Women Voters, Ohio Interfaith Power and Light, WV SUN, and OH SUN are the co-op sponsors.

The group is seeking members and will host an informational meeting on Tuesday, July 18, at 6 p.m. The meeting will be held at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Gallipolis (541 Second Avenue, Gallipolis, OH 45631) to educate the community about solar and the co-op process.

“It is St. Peter’s great joy to be able to sponsor this program for the Gallia County community, said Rev. A.J. Stack. “As people of faith, we believe that everything and everyone God has created is filled with goodness; it is our responsibility to care for and heal the world around us.”

OH SUN and WV SUN expand access to solar by educating West Virginia and Ohio residents about the benefits of distributed solar energy, helping them organize group solar installations, and strengthening Ohio’s and West Virginia’s solar policies and their communities of solar supporters. OH SUN and WV SUN have helped more than a dozen communities across their states develop solar co-ops. Collectively the programs helped create or sustain seventy solar jobs last year.

“I am excited to work with Gallia County residents to help them learn about solar and how affordable it has become,” said Luke Sulfridge, OH SUN Program Director. “The co-op is a great opportunity to help create new jobs in the region while making each homeowner more self-sufficient.”

Ohio Valley area residents interested in joining the co-op can sign up at the co-op website. The co-op is open to both Ohioans and West Virginians across the Ohio Valley area. Joining the co-op is not a commitment to purchase panels.

Co-op members selected Solar Holler out of West Virginia through a competitive bidding process. The installer was selected in part due to a training program that is retraining former coal miners to perform the installations.

Homeowners and small businesses have the option to purchase panels individually based on the installer’s group rate. By going solar as a group and choosing a single installer, participants can save up to 2 percent off the cost of their system.

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UK student lights up Indian village with solar power

By Aditi KhannaLondon, Jul 12 (PTI) Nearly 100 homes in Uttar Pradeshs Sarvantara village have been electrified, thanks to an initiative by a student from the UKs prestigious Imperial College.Clementine Chambon, a final year PhD student, has helped connect the homes with a mini eight-kWh solar energy grid via her social enterprise start-up company – Oorja – last month.The mini solar grid provides around 1,000 people with energy for affordable lighting, phone charging and fans to cool homes.“We are delighted to see the smiles on the faces of our happy customers, to hear their reports of how electricity is allowing their children to study longer, and their hopes that a computer centre will be opened in the school so that students can learn how to use a computer,” said Chambon.Like most hinterlands in India, majority of the population in Sarvantara are farmers. Chambon reckons her project will help fuel the farmers productivity.“The renewable energy generated will also power pumps to provide irrigation services to farmers, providing significant cost savings compared to diesel-powered pumps,” said Chambon.Since less than average rainfall has been predicted for this year, the Briton said, the demand for electricity to pump water for irrigation has surged.“Villagers are particularly keen to sign up to receive energy from our system for affordable irrigation services,” she said.“They are very relieved that an alternative to expensive diesel pumps will be available, especially as the diesel price in India is expected to get much more expensive, following recent deregulation of the market,” she added.Chambon intends to expand her project and fit the 100 households with smart meters to enable remote monitoring of energy generation and consumption in real-time.“The data will help Oorja to analyse the performance of the system and improve the services they provide,” she said.Oorja was founded in 2015 by Chambon and a colleague, Indian social entrepreneur Amit Saraogi.The company provides affordable and reliable power to rural communities in India that are currently not connected to the country?s national energy grid network.According to Imperial College London, the next stage of their project will involve a pilot of a hybrid mini-grid that will generate electricity from solar energy and biomass.“This could provide a bigger supply of electricity to power small enterprises, such as grain mills, sewing cooperatives and water purification stations in the village,” a statement by the college read.The Oorja team then plan to raise more funding to enable them to roll out dozens more mini-grids to other villages in 2018. PTI AK CHT CHT

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NRG Plans Sale of $4 Billion in Power Plant Assets, Including Up to 100% of Renewables Projects

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Under pressure from investors and new board members, NRG Energy is preparing to sell off its renewable power plants as part of a wide-ranging restructuring plan.

NRG, a top competitive energy supplier with more than 45 gigawatts of conventional and renewable power assets in the U.S., has been working on the restructuring plan since February. It revealed details Wednesday morning.

The power provider is looking to sell up to $4 billion in assets across its coal, gas, solar and wind portfolio. That includes 6 gigawatts of conventional power plants and, potentially, more than 3 gigawatts of renewable energy plants.

NRG will also shed 15 gigawatts of coal and gas plants after it spins off GenOn, the bankrupt generator it acquired in 2012.

Details about specific projects were not announced. NRG plans to divest its entire stake in its YieldCo, NRG Yield, and sell off 50 to 100 percent of other operating renewable assets. 

The sale of renewable assets could include power plants in operation or in development, said NRG CEO Mauricio Gutierrez.

“We’re looking at the entire package. You should think about the development company, the operating company, and the yield as an integral part of the proposition that we have in the market,” he said, after unveiling the plan to investors this morning.

The divestment process is already “well underway,” said Gutierrez. Citi, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are advising the sales, which are expected to be completed by the end of the year.

NRG included a list of projects that could soon hit the market. (Click to enlarge the full list.)

The portfolio review is part of NRG’s three-year “transformation plan” developed by a special committee. It includes over $640 million in long-term cost-cutting measures, including streamlining power plant maintenance and design, cutting head count, and outsourcing back-office services.

NRG’s $215 million “margin enhancement plan” includes scaling up the retail business, focusing on commercial customers, and optimizing dispatch of power plants, among many other measures.

Gutierrez said the plan will make NRG the “lowest-cost generator on the market,” beating the average all-in wholesale cost of peers by $10 per kilowatt. 

In total, the restructuring is intended to free up more than $6 billion in cash through 2020: “50 percent more cash with 70 percent less debt and 50 percent less cost,” said Gutierrez.

NRG is not walking away from renewables entirely, said Gutierrez. Rather, the company will revisit new generation investments — conventional and renewable — after the plan is executed at the end of 2019. “We will look to invest in projects with a 12-15 percent [return],” he said.

NRG has transformed itself multiple times in the last three years.

Under former CEO David Crane, the company expanded aggressively into residential solar, energy efficiency and electric-vehicle charging. Crane was ousted after investors soured on his vision, and those businesses were wound down. Most recently, NRG shed its struggling residential solar division.

After Crane’s departure, Gutierrez oversaw the acquisition of a large portfolio of renewable power plants, including 1,500 megawatts of SunEdison’s solar projects. The company has initiated new community solar projects in recent months as well.

But investors and board members are hungry for more cash — and they want those projects to be sold off quickly too. So nearly everything in the company’s renewable energy portfolio could be put on the market. 

Gutierrez described his new mandate: “Manage this business for cash.”

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Key role for EBRD in post-solution Cyprus, President says

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Why Australia is leading the way for solar energy

solar panels on Australian homes

Image credit: Shutterstock

In the fast evolving world of solar energy, it’s no longer a case of every building for itself.

In February, Australia launched the world’s first digital marketplace for solar energy, the Decentralised Energy Exchange (deX), which aims to change the way energy is produced and consumed. By supplementing large-scale power plants with a decentralized rooftop solar model, deX is aiming to create a virtual power station which enables homes and businesses producing excess energy to sell it off to others within the grid.

At the heart of the network are smart grids of rooftop solar panels and batteries that store excess electricity. During peak times, the network searches for households with batteries and excess energy, and passes it to other consumers.

Cost savings across the board are one of the big advantages. “deX makes it easier for businesses and home owners to get paid for feeding renewable electricity back in to the grid at peak times,” Simone Concha, Sustainability Director at JLL Australia, says. “This will reduce electricity bills, and reduce payback periods for solar storage systems, making it easier to start the journey to carbon neutrality.

“Electricity distribution networks also benefit by not having to upgrade systems which run into many billions of dollars,” she adds. “In turn this benefits everyone, not just those profiting from it, due to less taxpayer money going in to infrastructure.”

A new way of thinking

Innovative thinking is essential to tackle the energy needs of the future. The trading of electricity through solar panels mirrors other peer-to-peer networks, such as Uber, Airbnb and Spotify which all encourage consumers to connect and work collaboratively.

“Peer-to-peer energy trading is hampered by policy and retail legislation, however the deX program looks to overcome some of these challenges by purchasing electricity directly from the small generator and trading it in the wholesale market through the electricity retailer,” Kate Slattery, Energy and Sustainability Services Manager at JLL, explains.

With 1.6 million rooftops fitted with solar, Australia has one of the highest uptake per capita in the world. “While individual solar panels and batteries may not seem like they have enough power, when aggregated together, households become a powerful energy source,” Slattery adds.

Of course, there is still a way to go, with two pilot programs being launched in the Australian Capital Territory and Victoria. And there may need to be some incentives involved too to encourage greater participation down the line yet Concha believes there are opportunities to extend such thinking into commercial property.

“deX may help to reduce payback times for installing solar storage systems,” observes Concha. “Commercial real estate will increasingly need solar storage systems, as one of the steps on the way to becoming carbon neutral.”

Making the most of the sunshine

Australia is on the cusp on embracing solar energy on a huge scale with a number of large-scale projects under construction. Take, for example, the solar farm and battery project slated for the country’s Riverland region. With 3.4 million solar panels and 1.1 million batteries, the AUD 1 billion project, billed as the world’s largest, is set for completion by the end of 2017.

It follows on from a record breaking 2016 for solar energy in Australia. The country completed seven big projects last year with costs for large scale solar dropping significantly in recent years. Now, the Clean Energy Council predicts that solar could soon surpass wind as the cheapest form of renewable energy.

“With the development of the solar market, we can expect material costs to be reduced while specialist industry knowledge improves and increases,” says Slattery. “This will provide customers and organizations with access to high quality renewable power generation systems that are also commercially feasible.”

However, Slattery cautions that challenges remain in issues such as grid stability and network protection. New energy policies and regulations that allow for changes in how energy is supplied and traded will also be needed.

“Overcoming these challenges will allow the energy market (including renewables) to be revolutionized to give customers and businesses a sustainable electricity supply that is flexible and reliable,” concludes Slattery.

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