Joe Biden wants 100% clean energy. Will California show that it’s possible?

At-a-Glance:

There are several economic and environmental arguments for the $1.9 billion Pacific Transmission Expansion. The undersea power line would run south from San Luis Obispo County, hugging the California coast for 200 miles before making landfall in or near Los Angeles. It would be able to carry electricity from a fleet of offshore wind turbines, providing Southern California with clean power after sundown and helping to replace fossil-fueled generators. Fewer planet-warming emissions, less risk of blackouts, and no chance of igniting the wildfires sometimes sparked by traditional power lines are among the cases being made for this project. To learn more, read Joe Biden wants 100% clean energy. Will California show that it’s possible?” Reading this article could require a subscription from the news outlet.

Key Takeaways:

  • Policymakers across the country are looking to California to show that it’s possible to phase out fossil fuels. State law mandates 100% clean energy by 2045 and, in 2019, nearly two-thirds of California’s electricity came from climate-friendly sources.
  • As demonstrated by summer 2020’s rolling blackouts, there’s a clear longer-term need for clean energy sources that can be relied on when electricity demand is high and there’s not enough sunlight to go around.
  • The Public Utilities Commission unanimously approved a proposal that made its 2030 target to reduce emissions from power plants by 25% the basis for approving or rejecting new transmission lines, which is crucial for connecting renewable-energy facilities with cities that consume large amounts of electricity.
  • Climate advocates are urging Governor Newsom to play a more active role in utility infrastructure decisions to ensure the state is prepared to meet its clean energy targets.

Path to 100% Perspective:

California is a clean energy leader and state-level renewable energy infrastructure decisions made now will likely influence similar decisions across the country. State-of-the-art power-system modeling reveals that California can reach its renewable energy and emissions targets faster by utilizing flexible thermal generation. Flexible thermal generation assets can be converted as needed to use carbon-neutral fuels produced with excess wind and solar energy through power-to-gas technology, forming a large, distributed, long-term energy storage system. Such a system can provide a reliable source of electricity in cases of extreme or variable weather.

 

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Hydrogen advocates look to capitalize on California’s goal to replace diesel for back-up generation

At-a-Glance:

California regulators are on the lookout for cleaner alternatives to replace the widespread use of back-up diesel generation – particularly among data centers in Silicon Valley and other areas of the state – and some industry players think hydrogen could be the answer. To learn more, read “Hydrogen advocates look to capitalize on California’s goal to replace diesel for back-up generation.”

Key Takeaways:

  • Hydrogen fuel cells are advantageous for several reasons: they occupy less space than batteries, possess long-term storage capability, are quiet, reliable, and 100% zero-emission.
  • The key draw of hydrogen is its cost effectiveness at longer durations.
    • For a completely resilient, 100% renewable data center with zero emissions, using hydrogen would translate to a levelized cost of electricity amounting to $119 per MWh.
    • Batteries would lead to over $4,000 per MWh levelized cost to ensure 48 hours of backup power.
  • Taking a step back from the issue of replacing diesel back-up generators, environmental advocates are urging the state to prioritize the adoption of renewable, zero emissions technologies.
  • Ben Schwartz, policy manager at Clean Coalition, said California could adopt policies to promote the efficiency of solar and storage alternatives to diesel generation.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Renewable fuels, such as hydrogen, can help utilities overcome the variability challenges posed by seasonal conditions and extreme weather. One approach that can be leveraged in the transition to a 100% renewable energy system is power-to-gas (PtG). PtG technology uses excess energy from wind and solar to produce synthetic hydrogen and methane. The combination of stored fuel potential and thermal capacity yields a long-term energy storage system that acts like a gigantic distributed “battery.” Coupled with traditional, shorter-term storage technologies, this system can help meet seasonal energy demands when renewables are variable, and provide a reliable and secure supply of electricity during periods of extreme weather.

 

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The 10 Ways Renewable Energy’s Boom Year Will Shape 2021

At-a-Glance:

With the uncertainty of 2020 behind us, the new year kicked off with surging growth for renewable energy. Growth will likely continue into 2021, fueled in part by last year’s major turning points. Some analysts have started predicting that the U.S. power sector is approaching peak natural gas. That would leave room for solar-panel installations to build on the ongoing boom. To learn more, read The 10 Ways Renewable Energy’s Boom Year Will Shape 2021.” Reading this article may require a subscription. 

Key Takeaways:

  • Although U.S. residential solar installations dropped nearly 20% in the second quarter of 2020 from the first, by the end of the year, the sector bounced back and the country added 19 gigawatts of total solar power.
  • New battery capacity in the U.S. more than doubled in the third quarter of 2020 from the second, according to Wood Mackenzie and the U.S. Energy Storage Association. Projects in California were a key reason for the surge.
  • Electricity from Spain’s solar farms was up over 60% in 2020 compared to 2019, generating over 15,000 gigawatt hours of power, according to data from the country’s grid manager Red Electrica.
  • Renewable power beat out fossil fuels in the European Union for the first time, with approximately 40% of electricity in the first half of 2020 coming from renewable sources compared with 34% from plants burning fossil fuels.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Despite the upheaval caused by COVID-19 in 2020, the demand for renewable energy has not slowed and the path to 100% is becoming clearer as countries around the world commit to carbon-free sources of electricity. Developments such as China’s commitment to reaching carbon neutrality by 2060 and the European Union’s shift to renewables as the dominant power source provide further evidence that the tide is turning toward decarbonization. Ambitious goals, a commitment to research and development, and ongoing collaboration will continue to pave the path to a renewable energy future.

 

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California’s Big 2021 Decision on Grid Reliability: Expand Supply or Manage Demand?

At-a-Glance:

California is facing a major decision under a tight deadline — whether it should push for large-scale power plants and batteries to prevent a repeat of its August 2020 rolling blackouts this coming summer or turn to behind-the-meter resources such as batteries and demand response. To learn more, read California’s Big 2021 Decision on Grid Reliability: Expand Supply or Manage Demand?” 

Key Takeaways:

  • The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) issued a ruling in late December asking the state’s three big investor-owned utilities to find ways to expand supply-side capacity before August 2021.
  • Demand-side solutions – behind-the-meter batteries, smart thermostats, and commercial and industrial demand response – may be a more realistic set of options to meet CPUC’s August 2021 deadline.
  • The joint California agency root-cause analysis into last summer’s grid emergency highlighted “demand response and flexibility” as the resources most likely to be able to be added by mid-2021.
  • Existing rules may be dampening the potential for capturing California’s nation-leading roster of behind-the-meter resources, which adds up to gigawatts’ worth of latent capacity.
  • Barriers aren’t stopping companies from enlisting new demand-response and behind-the-meter-battery customers in California. Oakland-based startup, OhmConnect raised $100 million in December 2020 from Google-affiliated Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners to build out 550 MW of residential load flexibility via smart thermostats and Wi-Fi-connected smart plugs.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Opening up greater demand-response flexibility in California will not only help prevent grid emergencies like those experienced during the rolling blackouts last summer; it will also help advance California’s efforts on the Path to 100% clean electricity. California should pursue an approach that includes adding new innovative demand response systems and more thermal generation flexibility.

 

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Texas Storms, California Heat Waves and ‘Vulnerable’ Utilities

At-a-Glance:

In California, wildfires and heat waves in recent years forced utilities to shut off power to millions of homes and businesses. Now, Texas is learning that deadly winter storms and intense cold can do the same. To learn more, read Texas Storms, California Heat Waves and ‘Vulnerable’ Utilities.” Reading this article may require a subscription.

Key Takeaways:

  • Blackouts in Texas and California have revealed that power plants can be strained and knocked offline by the kind of extreme cold and hot weather that climate scientists have said will become more common as greenhouse gases build up in the atmosphere.
  • The electricity industry typically looks at average annual temperatures rather than seasonal ones. Changing the distribution of power sources based on the seasonal temperatures could help avoid electricity shortages.
  • The Electric Reliability Council of Texas could take a cue from states in colder climates and winterize its power plants and other equipment to prevent future weather-related power failures.
  • That Texas and California have been hardest hit makes clear that simplistic ideological explanations are often wrong. Texas, for example, has relied on market forces to balance its electric grid.

Path to 100% Perspective:

The impacts of climate change and extreme weather are not limited to Texas and California. All states can take steps to ensure their power and natural gas systems can handle the full range of temperatures that climate analysts forecast; winterization is just one example. States should also explore long-term energy storage solutions, such as thermal generation.

 

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California wastes its extra solar, wind energy. Could hydrogen be the storage key?

At-a-Glance:

No amount of solar panels and wind turbines alone will be enough for California to reach its goal of a clean electrical grid unless the state can solve its energy storage problem. The state already generates an abundance of energy from wind and solar farms, particularly during the sunny and blustery spring and early summer months. But it loses much of that energy because it has nowhere to store it, and unlike fossil fuels, the sun and wind are not dispatchable, and therefore are unable to be called on to generate power 24 hours a day. Utilities must rely on gas-fired power plants to keep up with California’s energy demands during peak demand periods. To learn more, read California wastes its extra solar, wind energy. Could hydrogen be the storage key? Reading this article may require a subscription.

Key Takeaways:

  • Some experts and legislators say the missing puzzle piece could be hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe, which can be used as a zero-emission fuel for power plants, vehicles and machinery.
  • “I would say it’s almost the missing piece of the puzzle,” said Jussi Heikkinen, Director of Growth and Development at Wärtsilä Energy, a Finnish technology company that has built battery storage systems in California. “We don’t need to get rid of the power plants, but we need to get rid of fossil fuels.”
  • State Senator Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, is carrying a bill, SB18, that specifies the state’s climate and electrical grid plans include “green hydrogen,” or hydrogen gas that is produced using electricity from renewable sources.
  • According to Jack Brouwer, director of the National Fuel Cell Research Center, hydrogen is more effective for longer storage than batteries because it doesn’t lose energy over time and can be stored underground easily and cheaply.
  • Hydrogen advocates say that California ultimately needs a mix of hydrogen and batteries to reduce carbon emissions.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Investing in green hydrogen will be important as California looks to decarbonize its energy system. The state can turn this into a win-win by harnessing the excess power generated by existing wind and solar farms to produce hydrogen. The hydrogen can be stored and turned back into electricity using flexible thermal assets. Policies that enable rapid reductions in fossil fuel use and rapid increases in renewable generation in the electricity sector are a valuable piece to accelerating the decarbonization process. Legislation should steer electricity-sector decisions about investments, infrastructure and technology toward decisions that quickly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and pave the way for a 100% renewable energy future

 

 

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Renewables alone won’t satisfy California’s clean energy ambitions

At-a-Glance:

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) would provide California with 15 percent of the emissions reductions necessary to meet its goal of a carbon-neutral economy in 2045, and it would save the state $750 million in costs for solar generation and grid-scale batteries, according to a new study. The report was released in October by the non-profit Energy Futures Initiative (EFI) and Stanford University. According to the report, 20 million tons of carbon dioxide emitted by 76 large industrial and power-generating emitters in California, could be extracted and stored underground at a profit. To learn more, read “Renewables alone won’t satisfy California’s clean energy ambitions.”

Key Takeaways:

  • Clean firm power available whenever needed and most likely to come from natural gas, is necessary to smooth out the peaks and valleys that are inherent to wind, solar, and hydroelectric generation, according to EFI.
  • Transportation accounts for 40 percent of California’s greenhouse gas emissions. The need for clean firm power will surge in concert with the growth of electric vehicles as the state moves to phase out gasoline-fueled cars by 2035.
  • Industry in California is a larger source of emissions than the power sector today, and it has few options available to reduce CO2 apart from CCS. Cement production, for example, requires high temperatures, but only 40 percent of its emissions are from combustion; a larger fraction is process related.
  • A federal tax credit known as 45Q offers $22 per ton of CO2 that is captured and used for enhanced oil recovery or other end uses, increasing to $35 in 2026 and adjusted for inflation thereafter. The credit is $34 per ton, increasing to $50, for CO2 that is captured and injected to geologic storage.
  • The research found that ethanol plants, hydrogen producers, and refineries in the state could capture and store CO2 profitably with existing incentives.

Path to 100% Perspective:

The record breaking heat wave that swept across the western part of the country and caused a series of blackouts in the Golden State this summer, offered additional modelling opportunities to demonstrate the most effective mix of energy to accommodate any extreme weather situation and meet clean power mandates. The big challenge facing California and the rest of the world is how to integrate renewables into the grid while building security of supply and a sustainable power system with an affordable plan for everyone involved. The “Optimal Path“ includes using power-to-gas (PtG) along with existing and future renewable energy.

 

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Missing Pieces of Decarbonization Puzzle Realized

Jussi Heikkinen, Director of Growth & Development, Americas
Wärtsilä Energy Business

These are exciting times as the renewable energy future is a focus for so many organizations and governments around the world, as indicated by attendance of the Wärtsilä sponsored webcast hosted by GreenBiz on November 19, 2020, Missing Pieces of Decarbonization Puzzle Realized. Emerging technologies are moving closer to reality, which makes ambitious energy goals more realistic and the path to 100 percent renewable energy is now within reach.

A place where the transition to renewables has progressed quite far already is California. The lessons learned along the way have been plentiful, but powerful nonetheless. The record-breaking heat wave that swept across the western part of the country and caused a series of blackouts in the Golden State, offered additional modelling opportunities to demonstrate the most effective mix of energy to accommodate any extreme weather situation during the transition, and to meet clean power mandates.

The big challenge facing California and the rest of the world is how to integrate renewables into the grid while building security of supply and a sustainable power system with an affordable plan for everyone involved.

That’s why Wärtsilä launched its Path to 100% initiative. We believe a 100% renewable energy future is possible, practical and financially viable so we assembled a community of experts to produce solutions based on science and engineering. This fall, we published a white paper that describes the Optimal Path to decarbonization for California using new hourly load data provided by this summer’s extreme heatwave.

In the whitepaper, Path to 100% Renewables for California, we modelled an approach for  California to reach its climate and clean power goals faster, at a lower cost to ratepayers, all while maintaining system reliability.

The “Optimal Path“ includes renewable carbon neutral fuels – hydrogen and synthetic methane. Curtailed renewable electricity is used in the process with water to produce hydrogen, and carbon is captured from air to produce synthetic methane with hydrogen. These fuels are used in power plants to provide a long term energy storage for seasonal and weather management needs. In the Optimal Path scenario, Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) commitments would actually be reached by 2040, five years ahead of schedule.

Generation costs in the “Optimal Path” scenarios are between 50 and 54 dollars per megawatt hour in 2045, while these costs would be almost 3 times higher if California opted to use only solar, wind and storage to build the power system. This cost difference is excessive and not beneficial for industries or households to pay. Additionally, carbon emissions are at net zero in 2045 in both scenarios.

How can California get on the Optimal Path to a renewable energy future? One recommendation is to recognize carbon neutral fuels – as presented above – to be counted as renewable for RPS purposes. This would enable the utilities to start looking for ways to invest and use such fuels to the benefit of California.

Another state aggressively pursuing renewable energy goals is Texas. Co-presenter and Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) Principal of Market Design and Development, Kenneth Ragsdale shared the Lone Star State’s progress on integrating renewables into the power system.

Climate Imperative’s Executive Director, Bruce Nilles offered a big picture perspective on electricity generation capacity and the commitments needed to accelerate decarbonization.

To watch the recorded presentations from Wärtsilä, ERCOT as well as Climate Imperative and download presentation materials, register today for the Missing Pieces of Decarbonization Puzzle Realized webcast.