Google parent Alphabet Inc. GOOGL 0.58% is pitching an idea to store power from renewable energy in tanks of molten salt and cold liquid, an example of the tech giant trying to marry its far-reaching ambitions with business demand. Alphabet's research lab, dubbed X, said Monday that it has developed plans to store electricity generated from solar panels or wind turbines as thermal energy in hot salt and cold liquids, such as antifreeze. The lab is seeking partners in the energy industry, including power-plant developers and utilities, to build a prototype to plug into the electrical grid. Whether the project, called Malta, ever comes to market depends as much on a sound business model as it does on science. Academics said the technology is likely years away from market, if it ever makes it.
The plan would make Diablo Canyon the latest nuclear plant to close in the face of cheap and abundant natural gas, falling prices for wind and solar, aging plant infrastructure, and an expensive and uncertain licensing renewal process – one that would also likely encounter serious opposition in California, where environmental advocates and some leading politicians, including the state's lieutenant governor, have urged regulators to close nuclear plants.
Casual observers of clean energy are often surprised by its limitations. Greenhouse gas emissions have fallen in California by 13 percent since 2004, even as the economy has grown by more than a quarter. That unprecedented reduction is partly the result of increased dependence on natural gas, which is cleaner than coal, but mostly because of the falling costs of renewable energy. The change is wonderful: Between 2008 and 2015, the price that energy utilities paid for solar energy fell by 77 percent, and wind decreased 47 percent, according to a report by the California Public Utilities Commission. Those falling costs encouraged energy providers to construct solar and wind farms all over the state.
The biodiesel industry is looking at a somewhat bifurcated future. Ambiguity reigns as a new presidential administration comes into power but at the same time, the California market for the fuel derived from a diversity of products including soybeans, canola oil and animal fats appears to be in a solid growth mode. "We have learned to thrive on uncertainty," said Jennifer Case, president of New Leaf Biofuel, based in Barrio Logan. "We are a scrappy industry." Case is one of about 800 attendees at the industry's biggest annual get-together, the National Biodeisel Conference and Expo, running through Thursday at the San Diego Convention Center.