U.S. utilities can’t reach their ambitious decarbonization goals unless they reduce their planned reliance on natural gas, find ways to “baseload” solar and wind power with long-duration storage or substitute zero-carbon fuels, and radically expand energy efficiency, demand response and the power and flexibility of customer-owned distributed energy resources. So says a new report from Deloitte highlighting the known, yet often underappreciated, challenges faced by utilities across the country promising to zero out their carbon impact by midcentury. To learn more, read “‘Math Doesn’t Yet Add Up’ for Utility Decarbonization Goals: Deloitte.”
- The first stage, dubbed “renew,” concentrates on replacing coal and natural gas with renewables and energy storage. All utilities with zero-carbon goals have pledged to do this — but not at the pace and scale required, Deloitte says.
- Deloitte’s second stage, dubbed “reshape,” concentrates on the demand side of the equation, namely shifting electricity loads to match a primarily renewable-powered grid. That’s going to require a massive growth in energy efficiency and demand response, as well as retooling approaches to tap the flexibility of digitally controlled loads and the value of behind-the-meter solar, batteries and plug-in electric vehicles.
- Deloitte’s final stage, dubbed “refuel,” takes on the looming challenge of replacing fossil fuels not just for generating electricity but also to power transportation, building heating and other key human needs.
- In terms of greening the power grid, the report focuses on the potential to convert excess renewable energy to carbon-neutral fuels such as methane or hydrogen for use in remaining natural-gas-fired power plants, and as “seasonal storage” to cover the gaps between supply and demand from summer to winter.
Path to 100% Perspective:
An aggressive plan to transition from fossil fuels while building flexible fuel integration and closing stranded assets that contribute to detrimental carbon emissions is the optimal solution for the Path to 100%. During the transition, dispatchable balancing gas plants will run less and less, maintaining the security of energy supply and enabling full utilization of wind and solar which cannot be sustained with existing gas and coal plants. The transition to hydrogen or synthetic methane is the last step. These synthetic fuels are expensive, but you only need a fraction of it compared to how much fossil fuels are burned today.
Photo: Duke Energy