Lancaster company partners to combat global warming, save natural resources

Lancaster-based GenHydro, a clean technology, green hydrogen and renewable energy production company, is partnering with EREN Groupe, a privately owned company in Europe whose focus is on technological innovation, to fight global warming and save natural resources.

The partnership is designed to produce new green hydrogen production systems and renewable energy technology in France, Germany and beyond.

“GenHydro is looking forward to partnering and working with EREN Groupe and their affiliates as we begin to deploy our technology globally in 2024 and beyond,” Eric Schraud, founder and CEO of GenHydro, said in a statement. “EREN Groupe is an innovative global leader in renewable energy, and GenHydro can leverage this expertise to assist in our mission to significantly decarbonize the energy usage of various industries and make a real impact in climate change and global warming.”

GenHydro’s technology converts waste aluminum into high-value, renewable products. Leveraged with EREN Groupe’s project management and implementation ability, the partnership plans to increase green hydrogen production supply while reducing costs, further scaling the green hydrogen economy and taking diverse renewable energy products to France and Germany.

The partnership will seek to maximize its impact by focusing on commercial and consumer sectors, including industrial chemicals like ammonia for agriculture and e-fuels for mobility. According to its press release, GenHydro will oversee the day-to-day operations alongside the support of EREN Groupe, which has a track record of implementing new technology and project execution ability.

“We are proud to partner and invest in GenHydro, as its technology will enable a deeper supply and cheaper cost of green hydrogen, which represents one of our areas of focus when fighting global warming,” said Jacques Ripoll, managing partner of EREN Groupe.

In addition to this partnership that focuses on France and Germany, EREN Groupe has invested in GenHydro to further accelerate the deployment of their technology globally by 2024.

GenHydro, currently with a Series A funding round open alongside other fortune 500 company projects in their pipeline, will use the funds to expand its workforce and scale its technology. GenHydro is also seeking like-minded organizations to decarbonize their operations and help achieve emissions reduction and energy efficiency goals.

New interactive map highlights renewable energy projects across Pa.

A new interactive map highlighting renewable energy projects across Pennsylvania was unveiled Tuesday by PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center. 

The map spotlights one renewable energy or energy efficiency project in each of the state’s 67 counties. According to a press release, the vibrancy and growth of the clean energy sector across Pennsylvania is a highlight of the map. 

Pennsylvanians can use the map to explore innovative clean energy products in each county and learn how to contribute to clean energy adoption. In the Susquehanna Valley, the interactive website highlights solar panels at Steelton-Highspire School District in Dauphin County. 

Ellie Kerns, climate field associate with PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center, said renewable energy projects are on the rise across the state. 

“In red, blue, and purple counties, and across rural, suburban, and urban counties, Pennsylvania communities are making huge strides to bring wind, solar, and energy efficient projects online at a rapid clip,” said Kerns. 

With far-reaching incentives in the new federal inflation Reduction Act, renewable energy and energy efficiency projects look to be more affordable and available to Pennsylvania businesses, residents, and non-profit organizations. These projects will help Pennsylvanians reduce air and climate pollution, save money on utility bills, and support a clean energy-based economy. 

“As we continue to move the needle towards a clean energy future we’re seeing more customers, especially school districts, realize the financial and environmental benefits of integrating solar and other renewable energy sources into their sustainability plan,” said Dan Pietropola, McClure Company’s Vice President of Business Development. 

According to the release, the total energy production of the projects highlighted in the interactive map is enough to power more than half a million Pennsylvanian homes annually. 

“So much of what we have to do is not come up with new stuff, but to invest in the things that already exist,” said State Representative Chris Rabb (D-Philadelphia). “And we also have to increase our literacy on how and why we need to move to a 100% renewable energy future, because it’s not science fiction. We have all the technology we need right now to get there.”

Guest view: Safeguarding electricity’s future in Pennsylvania

Whether it’s concern prompted by blackouts in Manhattan, transmission lines sparking wildfires in California or international cyber threats to the power grid, it’s reasonable to wonder what your local utility is doing to protect you from such disruptions and dangers and what the future holds.

As PPL Electric Utilities keeps power flowing to our 1.4 million customers, we are actively monitoring and maintaining our system, replacing aging power lines and substations, building new ones, and incorporating advanced technology to keep your electric service safe and secure – today and into the future.

The power grid also has a big role to play in protecting our local environment and combatting global climate change. We’re working to make our system cleaner and greener. The future grid will serve as a network binding together solar, wind, energy storage and other resources to function in harmony, continuing to supply on-demand electricity – even when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing.

The power grid has two main parts – distribution, akin to the roads serving your neighborhood – and transmission, linking regions the same way that highways connect communities. The wires, poles and trestles of transmission are the backbone of the electric grid, and the future will require the power system’s spine to be both strong and nimble.

As more of your power comes from wind, solar and other renewable resources, the transmission grid will serve an increasingly vital function – balancing the system across distant expanses and a wide variety of electric generating resources. In the evening or early morning, the system might deliver wind power from the mountains to the valley towns. Mid-day, when the sun is powering solar panels, the flow might be from the valley back up the mountain. The transmission system we’re building for the future will facilitate that flexibility.

Electricity has traditionally traveled in one direction – from generators to consumers. The future will see an increasingly dynamic flow as consumers get more of their power from solar panels, wind turbines or energy storage devices. That power will flow from the distribution system to the transmission system for a quick ride to wherever it’s needed.

Advanced technology will enable us to monitor and address the constantly changing conditions on the grid. We’re installing sensors and relays across the system to send back information in real-time. If you’ve noticed how many power interruptions are shorter than they used to be, that’s the grid using these sensors to isolate a problem and, if possible, fix itself. This allows us to isolate the broken part and re-route power so the fewest people are affected for the shortest amount of time.

To help reduce maintenance costs, we are harnessing the power of digital science and analytics to tell us when parts need replacement. We can now reliably tell from corrosion rates and other data when a piece of equipment might fail and then replace it beforehand, thus avoiding a power outage.

We’re using light detection and ranging technology (LiDAR) that maps individual trees along transmission rights-of-way. This helps us discover a tree that’s damaged or diseased before it falls across a power line. Our system also assesses tree growth rates, so we can more precisely deploy tree crews. Similarly, our data analytics on bird interactions with transmission lines is helping us enhance our avian management efforts, protecting birds and saving money.

As technology plays an increasing role in our business, we’re especially attentive to cyber threats and other potential dangers to the grid. While we don’t discuss details publicly, we plan and operate our system with the latest intelligence around cyber and physical intrusion and regularly evaluate our security by testing our system’s defenses.

The power system is a modern marvel that enables electricity to flow instantaneously (186,000 miles per second) to where it’s needed, precisely when you need it. As more and more aspects of our daily lives depend on electricity, it’s vital that we keep the electric system functioning effectively. We believe the key to this is a strong, smart transmission backbone connecting all the pieces.

Our electric grid is moving boldly into an exciting, new future offering low-carbon, reliable, affordable power for consumers. At PPL, we’re making the advances needed to build and sustain a bright future for Pennsylvania.

Dave Bonenberger is vice president, transmission and substations, for PPL Electric Utilities, based in Allentown.

Net zero construction nets attention

Interest in renewable energy is growing, particularly among nonprofits such as universities and colleges that are looking to reduce or even eliminate carbon emissions.

A rendering of the net zero building under construction for Sustainable Energy Fund in North Whitehall Township. (Submitted)
A rendering of the net zero building under construction for Sustainable Energy Fund in North Whitehall Township. (Submitted)

That interest could fuel more construction of net zero buildings, so called because they produce as much energy as they consume over the course of a year.

With reports on the global impact of climate change gaining more attention, some say these types of buildings will become more common. Aside from environmental concerns, proponents also cite the benefits of better productivity and a shorter payback time on the investments made by building owners in green technology.

“The number of net zero buildings in the United States is growing dramatically,” said John Costlow, president of Sustainable Energy Fund, a nonprofit in the Schnecksville section of North Whitehall Township.

The fund is developing what many believe to be the first commercial net zero energy building in the Lehigh Valley. It is under construction in North Whitehall Township.

“I believe a building like ours will spur additional buildings in the Lehigh Valley,” Costlow said.

The fund, a nonprofit that formed 20 years ago as part of Pennsylvania’s energy deregulation, is erecting the building on land it bought at 4250 Independence Drive. The nonprofit, known as SEF, plans to occupy part of the 15,000-square-foot office building and lease the remaining offices to local businesses and nonprofits. Construction is expected to wrap up in December.

Costlow said the organization’s goal is to create a net positive building, meaning the building will produce more energy through solar and thermal panels on its roof than it consumes. The excess energy would go back into the power grid.

Costlow said the average daily energy produced by the building should be around 130 percent of what it uses. On a good, sunny day, it could go as high as 200 percent.

The nonprofit invested about $5 million in the project and plans on using the building to host educational sessions about net zero technology, as well as additional sessions on general sustainability.

Among the structure’s features are solar panels designed to maximize energy production, as well as insulation that minimizes air leakage.

The building will also be a research tool.

“We have all kinds of sensors that are slated to be in the space so we know how much energy is being used right down to the individual office,” Costlow said.

‘A teaching tool’

Spillman Farmer Architects of Bethlehem, meanwhile, recently designed a net zero building for Millersville University in Lancaster County.

The $10 million Lombardo Welcome Center was completed in 2018 and is the first building in Pennsylvania to earn net zero energy certification from the International Living Future Institute, a Seattle-based organization that promotes sustainable construction. According to the institute’s website, it also has certified studios, offices labs and retail centers.

The Lombardo center serves as a model for how a net zero building could work, according to members of Spillman Farmer. For example, the building produced 75 percent more energy than it consumed in 2018, more than anticipated, said Russell Pacala, principal at Spillman Farmer Architects.

The project includes $829,000 worth of sustainable features, such as solar panels on the roof, a ground-mounted solar array and 20 geothermal wells outside on the lawn.

The $10 million Lombardo Welcome Center also included costs related to furniture, information technology and audiovisual items, moving costs, permit and approval fees, architectural and engineering fees and other costs.

The building also sports dashboards inside so users can see how the building is performing.

“The whole building is a teaching tool,” Pacala said.

In addition, the architects interviewed the building’s prospective users to determine how they might be comfortable in the space, but also to help educate them on how much energy they were using, said Heather Rizzetto Schmidt, project designer and manager for Spillman Farmer Architects.

By talking to them about what they could do to avoid impacting the energy performance of the building, such as avoiding plugging in space heaters, the architects were able to create a more sustainable building while encouraging end users to adjust their behavior to enhance the energy performance of the building. A more energy efficient building that’s comfortable for employees also enhances productivity, added Rizzetto Schmidt.

Part planning, part technology

In designing a net zero building, several factors come to the forefront.

Designers have to understand who will be working in the building, what technology they need, and when they arrive at work, said Christie Jephson Nicas, director of marketing for Spillman Farmer.

“That initial planning process is so important,” Jephson Nicas said.

But so is technology.

Larry Eighmy, principal at The Stone House Group, a facilities management firm in Bethlehem, said property owners who focus on energy-saving features can make a dramatic impact on their energy costs.

Today, sensors can control the amount of air that escapes; windows can collect solar energy and make it into electricity and new heat pumps help make buildings more efficient.

And those tools can make a difference even in old buildings like South Bethlehem’s Flatiron Building, originally designed in 1910. Stone House Group has been a tenant there for 14 years. Though it’s not a net zero building, it does have some energy-efficient features.

These include smart window blinds the company manipulates as needed, as well as a concentrated solar collector on the roof, and two new high-efficiency natural gas condensing boilers.

“Even with our relatively old building, we’ve been able to reduce our carbon footprint by 80 percent compared to our base year,” Eighmy said.

It makes sense for nonprofits to become early adopters of net zero buildings, particularly as colleges and universities seek to achieve a carbon neutral status and appeal to eco-minded students, he said.

Though net zero buildings could be tougher to erect for manufacturers, hospitals and other large energy users, they are possible.

“Everything is doable, it’s just how much energy you have available,” Rizzetto Schmidt said.

For those property owners concerned about increases in energy costs, a net zero building could be an effective hedge, said Andrew Schuster, principal at Ashley McGraw Architects of Syracuse, New York, the firm that designed the net zero building for SEF.

“Net zero is pretty straightforward, you make more energy than you use,” Schuster said. “A net zero building allows you to reduce your operating expenses by investing it up front in the building costs. Your savings is what you would be spending on utility costs.”

The payback period for those savings to make up for the extra costs is about 10 to 15 years. But the window has been getting shorter.

SEF is expecting a payback in less than 10 years, Schuster said.

Renewable energy experts push back on nuclear funding proposals

A proposal to assist Pennsylvania’s nuclear industry is focused on an outmoded technology at a time when the state should be boosting renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.

That, at least, is the consensus of experts in the renewable energy field.

The experts were responding to proposals being debated in Harrisburg that would add nuclear plants to a utility program designed to benefit renewable energy. The proposals are based on the fact that nuclear plants do not emit carbon, a culprit in climate change.

At issue are two bills that would create a third tier under the state’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act. The first two tiers are for wind, solar, biomass, waste coal and other limited sources of power. The proposed third tier would encompass nuclear and is designed to help financially struggling nuclear plants at Three Mile Island outside Harrisburg and Beaver Valley in western Pennsylvania.

The prime sponsor of House Bill 11, which was introduced last month, is Rep. Thomas Mehaffie, a Republican who represents Dauphin County where Three Mile Island is based. A similar bill, Senate Bill 510, was introduced in early April by Sen. Ryan Aument, a Republican from Lancaster County.

The proposals would provide up to $500 million in subsidies, which would equate to about $1.53 more on a monthly residential bill, according to an April 3 report from StateImpact Pennsylvania, a news organization under the umbrella of National Public Radio stations in Pennsylvania.

Aument led a task force that examined a range of alternatives for subsidizing the nuclear industry. He has argued that the industry creates high-paying jobs statewide, noting that once a plant closes it cannot be restarted. Supporters also maintain that nuclear power creates zero carbon emissions.

“Powerful special interests have disingenuously branded any support for the nuclear industry as a ‘bailout,’ but in reality, current law stacks the deck heavily against Pennsylvania’s nuclear plants,” Aument said in a prepared statement last week after the bill was introduced. “Including nuclear energy in the state’s alternative energy plans will help level the playing field for the industry and ensure its long-term viability in Pennsylvania’s marketplace while simultaneously protecting ratepayers from higher electricity bills down the road.”

The House bill would require electric distribution companies to buy 50 percent of their electricity from Tier III facilities. While legislative language suggests that the mandate would help renewable energy sources, opponents maintain that the criteria effectively would preclude renewables from benefitting.

Instead, observers noted, state leaders would be wiser to back alternative proposals that would encourage more investment in wind and solar technologies.

“The nuclear piece does nothing for clean energy or for carbon reductions,” Jackson Morris, the eastern region director of the climate and clean energy program for the National Resources Defense Council, said about House Bill 11. The bill also doesn’t encourage investment in renewables or otherwise support energy conservation.

A third tier

The state’s renewable energy standards – known by the acronym AEPS – were created in 2004 and included two tiers. Tier I included support for wind and solar technologies but also energy created from biomass fuels, such as animal waste, and methane gases. Tier II included non-renewables such as waste coal and municipal garbage that is burned at waste-to-energy plants like those in Harrisburg and Lancaster.

The current law requires that distribution companies buy 8 percent of their electricity from Tier I sources, and 10 percent from Tier II sources by 2021, with ratepayers covering the added costs, observers said. A state Public Utility Commission report in 2017 – the most recent data available – noted that of the annual $14.8 billion in customer spending on electricity in 2016, about “$0.007 (seven-tenths of one cent) of every dollar is spent on AEPS compliance.”

Instead of adding nuclear as a third tier and increasing consumer costs to support nuclear power, the state would be better off increasing the percentages in Tier I to for solar and wind, said Sharon Pillar, a Pittsburgh-based consultant who owns Hot Earth Collaborative LLC, a consultancy that works with nonprofits, businesses and government clients.

Neighboring states have been raising their standards to as much as 50 percent for wind and solar, Pillar and others said. Companies looking to invest in wind farms or residential or commercial solar want to see where a state’s commitment is before increasing investments there, they said.

“We need to modernize AEPS so it is the same if not better than other states,” said Pillar who also works with Environmental Entrepreneurs, or E2, as its Pennsylvania advocate. Environmental Entrepreneurs is a network of businesses and investors who advocate for renewable energy policies and projects. Pillar said companies will leave or not build here if there are better alternatives elsewhere, meaning lost jobs and economic potential.

State legislation in the works would encourage that movement, Pillar said. It is expected to call for lifting the current standard for renewables to 30 percent by 2030 in Pennsylvania, up from 18 percent by 2021 under the 2004 law. Unless the standard is updated, the lower percentage will remain in place, she and others said.

New Jersey and New York have a renewable target of 50 percent by 2030, so a 30 percent target is “a reasonable approach to keep Pennsylvania competitive,” according to a fact sheet Pillar provided. Maryland is expected to raise its goal to 50 percent, as well, Pillar said.

By going to 30 percent, Pennsylvania at least will show the kind of support for renewables that private investors want to see before putting money into wind and solar projects, she added. The legislation also would call for studies on storing renewable energy, which would help meet energy needs during periods of peak demand, she added.

Maureen A. Mulligan is owner of Sustainable Futures Communications, a consulting business. Mulligan, who was chief of the PUC’s consumer education until 2002, said that House Bill 11 does little to help renewable energy.

The bill, she said in an email, “adds restrictive criteria that will ensure no renewable energy will be built and only more expensive nuclear energy will qualify.”

According to a blog post by Mark Szybist, a senior attorney with the NRDC’s climate and clean energy program, the PUC would determine which energy sources are eligible for Tier III. The PUC then would rank each source based on how much electricity the source generates in order to meet the 50 percent goal.

“In that case,” Szybist wrote in his blog, “all the state’s nuclear plants would all get picked first, since even the smallest of those plants (Three Mile Island, with its one reactor) generates much more electricity than the largest utility-scale wind or solar farm.”

“This would leave little room for renewables in Tier III,” he added.

Mulligan said investing in nuclear doesn’t make sense for future generations because of lingering issues with getting rid of spent nuclear fuel, especially now that wind and solar have proven to be cost-effective technologies.

“Passing HB 11 will crush the renewable energy industry for years to come and won’t solve the greenhouse gas problems,” she wrote, adding: “Pennsylvania doesn’t need a bailout simply to save one small, 44-year-old nuclear plant (TMI) that is no longer economically viable and hasn’t been for over five years.”

Several observers noted that the incentives built into the 2004 law helped jump-start the renewable industry, along with federal and state tax incentives. In fact, solar now costs about a half as much to install as it did eight years ago, even though state tax credits have ended, several experts noted.

Ray Heisey, owner of Lancaster-based Wind and Solar LLC, said he founded his company in 2006 after a career in the nuclear-power industry. While he has been following the developments of the legislation, he isn’t familiar with all the details.

However, he said he cannot understand why state leaders would look to favor nuclear energy when the industry hasn’t resolved waste-disposal issues. Nuclear waste, which is highly toxic, is stored on site at nuclear plants.

“For me, the whole question revolves around the waste,” Heisey said. “They need to address that.”