Beyond the Boilerplate
September Newsletter - Curated by Boilersource
Welcome to Boilersource’s Beyond the Boilerplate newsletter! In these monthly newsletters, we will be sharing local and global industry trends, new regulations, technology, and much more! This newsletter will allow Boilersource to share our decades of experience and give expert advice to make sure you have all of the knowledge you need to remain competitive and in the know.
Discover upcoming events and webinars to expand your knowledge on current and future technology or simply expand your network. Plus, enjoy fun trivia, puzzles, and employee recipes that you can share with your family and friends!
U.S. natural gas price saw record volatility in the first quarter of 2022
Katy Fleury - 24 August 2022
U.S. natural gas price volatility (a measure of daily price changes) reached its highest level in 20 years, hitting record highs in the first quarter (January–March) of 2022. The 30-day historical volatility of U.S. natural gas prices, which is based on the U.S. benchmark Henry Hub front-month futures price, averaged 179% in February compared with 57% during the first quarter of 2021.
Historical volatility is a measure of daily closing price changes for a commodity at a specific time in the past. During July, historical volatility was lower on a percentage basis, in part, because natural gas prices were relatively higher than during the first quarter of this year.
The Henry Hub front-month futures price averaged $7.19 per million British thermal units (MMBtu) during July compared with an average of $4.46/MMBtu during February. Natural gas price volatility averaged 124% during the first quarter of 2022 and 75% during the second quarter.
Increased uncertainty about market conditions that affect natural gas supply and demand can result in high price volatility. Events that have contributed to changing market conditions include:
Unplanned pipeline maintenance and outages
Significant departures from normal weather
Changes in inventory levels
Availability of substitute fuels
Changes in imports or exports
Other sudden changes in demand
U.S. natural gas prices are typically more volatile during the first quarter of a year because of the fluctuating demand for natural gas for space heating as weather changes. Factors that contributed to heightened volatility in the first three months of this year include:
Declines in Lower 48 states’ working natural gas levels
Historical Henry Hub front-month natural gas price volatility fell to an average of 56% in April but rose in subsequent months, averaging 109% in July. Warmer-than-normal temperatures and increased domestic supply contributed to this increase in volatility.
The temporary shutdown of the Freeport LNG terminal in June decreased demand for feed gas by 2 billion cubic feet per day, generating a surplus of natural gas on the domestic market. The Henry Hub futures price fell by 39% from June 10 to June 30. In July, however, the warmer-than-normal temperatures across the Lower 48 states resulted in increased natural gas demand in the electric power sector, absorbing much of the Freeport LNG-related surplus. As a result, the natural gas futures price increased 52% in July compared with June.
Forget Green Hydrogen, Pink Hydrogen is Heating Up
Maxx Chatsko - 31 August 2022
Zero-carbon hydrogen can be made from nuclear power plants, too. Could it save America's aging fleet?
After years of hype and broken promises, investors are hoping this time might really be different for hydrogen stocks.
A sudden sense of climate urgency in boardrooms and government alike has spiked interest in emerging technologies that could help reach aggressive decarbonization goals. That includes hydrogen, especially hydrogen produced with renewable energy to create truly carbon-free fuel. This so-called green hydrogen could decarbonize industrial processes, and perhaps make marginal contributions to transportation and heating as well.
It's all sounds so promising, but it's important for investors to remain realistic. Production costs, economies of scale, storage, and transportation all present significant hurdles to green hydrogen and the hydrogen economy at large.
But if hydrogen ever lives up to its potential as a wonder fuel, then it may be thanks to nuclear power plants. Although this supply is also carbon-free, environmentalists are a sensitive bunch. Therefore, this is referred to as pink hydrogen. It could be just what aging nuclear fleets need to remain economically relevant.
Pink Hydrogen, Explained
Hydrogen can be manufactured in numerous ways. The most referenced process is electrolysis, which uses electricity to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. Electrolysis is the process used to manufacture green hydrogen, where electrolyzers are supplied by companies such as Plug Power (PLUG) and electricity is supplied by a wind or solar farm.
Pink hydrogen can also be manufactured via electrolysis, but with the electricity supplied by nuclear power plants. However, the manufacturing process would be tweaked slightly due to low efficiency and poor economics.
The chemical reactions needed to manufacture hydrogen require significant amounts of energy. Whereas methods to produce green hydrogen must rely primarily on energy in the form of electricity ("cold electrolysis"), nuclear power plants can leverage waste energy from the heat they produce. That opens a whole new economic reality for pink hydrogen.
Nuclear power plants could manufacture zero-carbon hydrogen using four different processes, according to the World Nuclear Association:
Cold electrolysis, which uses only electricity
Low-temperature steam electrolysis (LTSE), which uses both electricity and heat
High-temperature steam electrolysis (HTSE), which uses both electricity and heat
High-temperature thermochemical production, which uses only heat
Processes that use heat benefit from higher efficiencies and potentially lower production costs, although they can be limited by materials science. That's because the membranes used in HTSE can be quickly degraded by the high temperatures. Similarly, existing nuclear reactors aren't optimized for high-temperature thermochemical production, which would be the Holy Grail of low-cost hydrogen production. Next-generation nuclear technology now in development could provide viable manufacturing pathways in the 2030s.
Industry isn't waiting idly in the meantime. The potential to manufacture hydrogen with excess heat and electricity could significantly alter the economics of atomic energy.
Nuclear power plants could use off-peak electricity to manufacture hydrogen more efficiently and in greater volumes than renewable energy, then sell the supply to existing industrial customers for an additional revenue stream. A single 1,000-megawatt reactor could produce nearly 500 metric tons of hydrogen per day. For perspective, Plug Power has announced a goal of achieving the same level of production by 2025, but needs 13 green hydrogen production sites combined to reach that volume.
This isn't to suggest industrial suppliers such as Plug Power or Bloom Energy (BE) cannot benefit from pink hydrogen. Rather, this provides an additional potential source of funding, partners, and future business. Indeed, Bloom Energy is working with Westinghouse and others to develop HTSE processes for pink hydrogen production.
Growing Interest in Pink Hydrogen
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) supports the Hydrogen Shot program, which aims to develop the technologies required to produce clean hydrogen for $1 per kilogram. Green hydrogen gets all the glory, but pink hydrogen from nuclear plants is also eligible for funding.
The DOE has provided millions of dollars for pilot programs exploring HTSE processes, including in Arizona and Minnesota. Xcel Energy (XEL) has been one beneficiary. The electric and gas utility recently began a pilot project at its Prairie Island nuclear power plant. Although work remains in the earliest stages of development, the utility is interested extending the life of its atomic fleet, selling hydrogen to industrial customers, and possibly mixing hydrogen into its own natural gas network.
Additionally, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act passed earlier this year set aside $8 billion to create four regional clean hydrogen hubs across the United States. Sites have yet to be finalized, but investors can expect nuclear power to play a central role in the so-called H2Hubs.
Don't Sleep on Nuclear Power's Role in the Hydrogen Economy
Green hydrogen tends to receive all the coverage and excitement, but pink hydrogen boasts several notable advantages. Nuclear power plants can produce hydrogen at lower costs, higher volumes, and closer to end-users (industrial customers) than newer projects based on renewable energy.
It could be a win-win scenario. If the nation's atomic fleet gains commercial traction with first-generation processes such as HTSE, then it could provide incentives to develop next-generation nuclear reactors capable of operating at higher temperatures. That would deliver safer nuclear energy, increase the nation's supply of carbon-free electricity, and reduce or even eliminate nuclear wastes -- all while having the added benefit to manufacture the lowest-cost hydrogen on the market through thermochemical processes.
There's no guarantee the hydrogen economy will emerge on the timeline or scale expected by investors or politicians, but if and when it does, expect nuclear power to be a critical piece.
How Local Governments and Communities Are Taking Action to Get Fossil Fuels out of Buildings
Leah Louis-Prescott, Rachel Golden - August 9, 2022
Across the United States, 80 cities and counties have adopted policies that require or encourage the move off fossil fuels to all-electric homes and buildings. As of August 2022, nearly 28 million people across 11 states live in a jurisdiction where local policies favor fossil fuel-free, healthy buildings. And the momentum behind these policies keeps building — dozens more local governments have strong commitments to decarbonize their buildings stock, which will soon become formal policy.
Local Building Electrification Momentum at a Glance
This national wave of action is motivated by the numerous benefits — in terms of climate, air quality, health, economics, resilience, and safety — of shifting from fossil fuels to zero-emissions electric appliances.
Methane gas is now the largest source of climate pollution in the United States. Gas combustion in buildings produces at least 10 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas pollution, and in dense urban areas it is often a leading source of climate pollution. Electrification is the only cost-effective pathway to decarbonize our buildings and avoid the worst consequences of climate change.
Fossil fuel appliances by releasing harmful pollutants like nitrogen oxides (NOx) that lead to smog. In fact, gas appliances emit more than twice as much NOx as gas power plants in the United States, despite consuming less gas. Many of the same states and regions with the worst smog pollution also have elevated levels of NOx emissions from appliances. Electrification can eliminate this pollution source and help us all breathe cleaner air. Learn More.
Fossil fuel extraction and appliance pollution harm public health and disproportionately impact BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) and low-income communities. Due to systemic injustices, these communities have higher rates of illnesses, like asthma, that can be caused or exacerbated by appliance pollution. Exposure to fossil fuel appliance pollution in the United States led to over $65 billion in health impacts in 2017. BIPOC communities are exposed to nearly twice as much fine particulate (PM2.5) pollution from household gas appliances as White communities. These communities with heightened pollution exposure should be prioritized in the transition to electric appliances.
With more frequent extreme heat waves, access to air conditioning is a health and safety imperative for many communities across the world. Many Americans — especially BIPOC and low-income households — either lack access to air conditioning or cannot afford to run it. Equipping homes with electric heat pumps, which provide highly efficient heating and cooling, will help families ride out dangerous heat waves.
Across the country, all-electric single-family homes are less costly for builders and developers than building homes that require fossil fuel infrastructure. These cost savings allow developers to produce more market-rate and affordable housing units and endure other price fluctuations. Much of these savings are created by foregoing costly gas pipelines — which can carry a price tag as high as $15,000 per house.
Transmitting gas through pipelines creates significant fire and explosion risks. Between 2010 and 2021, US gas pipeline incidents that were reported to the federal government, which make up only a fraction of the total, occurred once every two days on average. Of the 2,600 reported incidents, one-third resulted in fires and one-eighth in explosions. These incidents led to a total of 122 deaths and 600 injuries, and they cost communities nearly $4 billion.
Local Building Electrification Policies and Case Studies
Local governments across the nation are feeling the heat and are eager to help their residents and businesses get off fossil fuels like gas. With the help of local experts, they have created a range of policy solutions, including:
Building code amendments — Local building codes set requirements for new construction and/or major renovations. Local governments can include incentives or requirements for electric appliances through ordinances or laws that amend the local or state building code. The appliances and building types that are covered can vary or be phased in over time, or building codes can require all-electric construction for all new buildings.
Building performance standards — A building performance standard, or BPS, sets a performance target that a building owner must meet over time. It may be an emissions target, meaning a building must reduce its total pollution below a certain threshold, or an energy target, meaning a building must reduce its total energy usage below a certain threshold by a specified date. Building owners can choose which upgrades to pursue to comply with BPS, and electrifying appliances is typically the best option due to the energy and emissions savings that heat pumps deliver. These standards typically apply to large public, commercial, and multifamily buildings. Model BPS include incentives and financing to help with the retrofits, as well as financial penalties for noncompliance.
Local policies to restrict gas expansion and accelerate clean energy retrofits vary in form and detail based on the local context, illustrating a wealth of paths to eliminate climate and air pollution in homes and businesses. Leading examples of local action prioritize the unique needs of low-income and historically marginalized communities while providing a clear and decisive shift away from burning fossil fuels in buildings.
Below are six examples of local electrification policies that were designed with input from key stakeholders and adapted to fit the local landscape.
New York City — Building code amendment and BPS:
A campaign led by New York Communities for Change, New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), WE ACT for Environmental Justice, and Food & Water Watch, with the support of dozens of grassroots groups and allies, secured Local Law 154, which amends NYC’s building code to require all-electric new construction in all buildings. New York City’s amendment takes a phased approach, requiring all-electric for new low-rise buildings in 2024 and for taller buildings in 2027. This law builds on earlier commitments to limit emissions in buildings larger than 25,000 square feet. With Local Law 154, New York City will be the largest city in the world to phase fossil fuels out of new construction starting in 2024. Climate change impacts and air pollution that stems from burning fossil fuels in buildings has been shown to disproportionately burden low-income communities and communities of color. By ensuring that no more buildings that use fossil fuels are constructed, the city is taking a significant first step in advancing environmental justice.
Boston — Building Performance Standard with EJ Fund:
More than 80 local community members and organizations, including ACE, City Life/Vida Urbana, and Chinese Progressive Association, and Clean Water Action helped design Boston’s building performance standard for commercial and multifamily buildings with a paired environmental justice fund. Boston’s Building Emission Reduction and Disclosure Ordinance limits carbon emissions from large, existing commercial and multifamily buildings with varying compliance dates based on building size. Building owners that fail to comply must pay a fee to a fund that invests in environmental justice populations that are most affected by climate pollution. This community-led compliance solution replaced traditional carbon offsets, which many local community groups criticized as a false solution that allows pollution to persist. While there are still critics of the policy, it provides a good example of community members finding common ground while actively testing out a solution to drive climate equity.
Denver — Building Performance Standard:
Twenty-five diverse stakeholders, including the Pipefitters Local Union, local IBEW union, Energy Outreach Colorado, and Denver Housing Authority, joined a task force to help Denver design a building performance standard for commercial and multifamily buildings. Denver’s BPS limits the energy use in existing commercial and multifamily buildings over 25,000 square feet and requires heat pumps for space and water heating once current appliances meet their end of life. The policy grew out of a two-year stakeholder engagement process that included community engagement with individualized outreach from task force members. The task force also recommended a sales tax, which voters have approved, to raise $40 million a year for a climate protection fund, with at least half of the funds benefiting BIPOC and underresourced communities. Denver’s approach illustrates how a diverse multistakeholder effort can foster unique local solutions.
San Francisco — Building Code Amendment with Water Reuse Ordinance:
A broad set of stakeholders, including equity advocate Emerald Cities Collaborative and labor group San Francisco Local 38 Plumbers and Pipefitters, led a task force that informed the city’s building code amendment requiring all-electric new construction in all buildings. The task force solicited input from over 400 members of the public over six months to inform the county’s approach to zero-emissions new construction. In response to workforce comments, the county’s all-electric new construction policy was passed alongside a commitment to evaluate opportunities to expand requirements for recycled water on-site — a critical solution for drought-prone areas. A water reuse requirement passed the following year. While over 50 other local governments in California have enacted similar building code policies, San Francisco stands out because of its broad community engagement effort, especially with labor.
Seattle — New Construction Code and Heating Oil Tax:
Local advocates including Emerald Cities Collaborative, Shift Zero, and Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility, as well as labor groups such as MLK Labor Council, supported Seattle’s building code amendment requiring electric space and water heating in new commercial, large multifamily, and municipal buildings. Seattle’s building code created a blueprint for state action where advocates helped the Washington State Building Code Council pass the first statewide mandate on heat pump space heating in new commercial buildings. The city also passed an ordinance that created a heating oil tax that increases over time, with the revenue used to create a clean electric heat pump incentive program paired with weatherization for low-income homes. The heating oil ordinance is fitting for the local landscape, as 10 percent of Seattle’s single-family homes rely on heating oil, and electrifying can reduce both costs and emissions for these homes.
Though not active policy, legislation motions can serve as a meaningful tool to commit to equitable processes and future policies, as exemplified by Los Angeles below.
Los Angeles* — Energy Justice and New Construction Motions:
Environmental and economic justice coalitions LEAP and RePower LA, which are anchored by groups such as PSR-LA, LAANE, SCOPE, CBE, and Pacoima Beautiful, worked with the city of Los Angeles to pass two motions that commit to equitable electrification processes and policies. First, LA passed an energy justice motion with energy and housing justice principles to incorporate in local building decarbonization efforts. The motion also initiated a community engagement process to ensure that input from vulnerable and frontline communities informs equitable policies. Months later, the city passed a new construction motion to prepare an ordinance for all-electric new construction starting in 2023. The development of building decarbonization policy in LA stands out because advocates for environmental justice, housing, renters’ rights, and labor are actively working together and with decision makers to shape the future of their city.
*Not counted in our total until final binding regulation is adopted.
These examples illustrate the wide range of equitable programs and policies that can be created when any local government partners with its communities and stakeholders to develop groundbreaking solutions. For a comprehensive list of local building electrification policies, visit this tracker from Building Decarbonization Coalition.
With less than eight years to cut national building emissions in half, we need all hands on deck to reap the much-needed climate, health, and affordability benefits from transitioning off gas. Cities and counties have the power to influence building practices locally, and they must also use their political heft to make state and federal policies climate and equity-aligned.
Entertainment & Amusements
Measure the Speed of Light Using Your Microwave!
What You Need:
Microwave safe dish at least 5-6 inches across (bigger is better)
Place the mini-marshmallows in the dish one layer thick.
If your microwave has a rotating platform, remove it. We don’t want the dish to rotate.
Put the dish in the microwave for 10 seconds.
When you remove the dish, you’ll notice only certain parts are melted. (Time may depend on the microwave – if all or none of your marshmallows melted, adjust the time.)
Measure the distance between melted marshmallows using your ruler. Measure in centimeters. This is half the wavelength of a microwave.
Look for a sticker on your microwave that tells you its frequency in Hertz (Hz). Most microwaves are around 2450 MHz. Note: MHz = 10^6 Hz
Use the following equation to find the speed of light: Speed of light = 2 x (distance between melted spots) x (frequency of microwave)
The actual speed of light is 3.00 x 10^10 cm/s. How close were you?
What’s going on?
Microwaves are a form of electromagnetic radiation, just like light, but they are beyond the visible spectrum so we cannot see them. A microwave oven works by creating a standing wave in the microwave.
The peaks of the wave heat faster and melt the marshmallows first. What you measure is half the wavelength of the microwave light. The arrow shows one full wavelength of microwave light.
The Many Uses of Steam Energy!
Peach French Toast ala BOILERSOURCE
Recipe by Tony Ranallo
Use a 13” x 9” baking dish sprayed with Pam or similar cooking spray
1 cup Dark brown sugar (lightly packed)
1/2 cup Butter
2 Tbsp Water
1 can (29 oz) Sliced peaches, drained (if you buy peaches in heavy syrup you can reserve for later use to pour over portion)
8 (large) Eggs, beaten well
2 cup Milk
1 Tbsp Vanilla extract
1 loaf (1 lb) Cinnabon cinnamon bread or similar brand,
sliced into ¾ - 1” cubes
Heat brown sugar and butter in a heavy saucepan, stir until melted. Continue stirring with a whisk while adding water. Cook until thick and foamy.
Pour the caramel mixture into the greased 13” x 9” baking dish. Let cool for 10 minutes.
Arrange peach slices in rows on top of the caramel to cover the bottom of the baking dish.
Cover the peaches with the bread cubes.
Mix the eggs, milk and vanilla together well and pour evenly over all the bread cubes. Try to get all the bread moist.
Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake for 1-1/2 to 2 hours until eggs are set (when you put in a knife to test there should be no egg on the knife when extracted).
If the edges and top brown too quickly, cover with foil for the remaining time.
Remove from oven and let set for 5 – 10 minutes before serving. When ready to serve, cut a portion and flip it over onto the plate so the peaches are on top.
The reserved peach syrup may be served on the side.