Tucson Electric turns on its biggest renewable-energy plants to date

At-a-Glance:

The electricity powering most of Tucson, including the University of Arizona, got a little cleaner the week of May 3, as Tucson Electric Power Company (TEP) switched on its biggest solar and wind power plants to date. To learn more, read “Tucson Electric turns on its biggest renewable-energy plants to date.” Reading this article may require a subscription from the news outlet.

Key Takeaways:

  • The 1,130 acre project, built and owned by NextEra Energy, includes 30MW of linked battery storage to bank solar power for use when the sun goes down.
    • The Wilmot Energy Center is expected to generate enough energy to power the equivalent of 26,000 typical TEP homes.
  • TEP’s biggest renewable energy resource, the 250MW Oso Grande Wind Project in New Mexico, went online a couple of weeks later. Consisting of 62 wind turbines on 24,000 acres, Oso Grande is expected to generate enough energy each year to serve about 90,000 homes.
  • With Wilmot and Oso Grande online, TEP will have 628MW of large, community-scale wind and solar resources – with the 99MW Borderlands Wind Project, being built 100 miles south of Gallup, New Mexico, coming online by the end of 2021.
  • The new solar and wind farms will help TEP toward its goal of generating 70% of its power from renewables and cutting its carbon emissions by 80% by 2035.
  • TEP has dedicated a portion of its output to provide the UA campus with “100% clean energy” under a 20-year, green energy agreement announced in 2019.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Electric utilities such as TEP are embracing their role in reducing climate emissions by shifting to renewable energy sources, like solar and wind. As a growing number of cities, states, and nations set goals for increasing amounts of renewable energy, economics is helping bring those plans to fruition. Over the past 20 years, the cost per kilowatt of wind power plants has decreased by 40%, while the cost of solar generation has dropped by 90%. The cost-competitiveness of renewables is making it possible to accelerate decarbonization of power systems such as TEP.

Switching to renewable energy is sometimes dirty. Tech like blockchain can help

At-a-Glance:

The worldwide push to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 will require advances in green technologies – particularly tech associated with renewable energy – but simply waiting for future tools to emerge isn’t a viable solution to climate change. To learn more, read Switching to renewable energy is sometimes dirty. Tech like blockchain can help.”   Reading this article may require a subscription from the news outlet.

Key Takeaways:

  • According to McKinsey, electricity will occupy 30% of the global demand for power by 2050 – up from 19% today. The International Energy Agency expects renewables to generate 80% of global electricity demand within the next decade, as the cost of renewable generation plummets below the cost of fossil fuels.
  • “Clearly, there’s a great danger that we simply replace a hydrocarbon-based economy…with a metal economy,” says Robert Lee, professor of law at the University of Birmingham in the U.K., referring to the metals that are required to make batteries, such as lithium. Mining those metals is a polluting process itself, and properly disposing of batteries at the end of their shelf life is a looming issue.
  • Digital technologies can help address the challenges involved in switching to renewable energy and electricity. For example, the European Union passed legislation requiring battery manufacturers to stamp battery units with a digital “passport” tag so the battery can be traced through its lifetime.
  • Energy saved by efficiencies introduced through digitalizing will offset the energy consumed by digitalization. This would come through actions like energy suppliers using remote sensors and AI oversight to monitor power demand and distribute electricity efficiently.

Path to 100% Perspective:

The average estimated life of a Lithium-Ion battery is about two to three years or 300 to 500 charge cycles, whichever happens first. Lower costs and increased spending on renewables are driving deeper penetration of renewable energy around the globe. Renewables will certainly play an integral role in powering mining operations because of the benefits they offer in terms of cost and sustainability. Economically it makes sense. The levelled cost of electricity (LCOE) is lower than ever, and renewables are becoming increasingly cost-effective as organizations seek efficiencies and breakthroughs.

 

 

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Yes, America can achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Here’s how.

At-a-Glance:

The loss of life and economic costs stemming from the recent crisis in Texas have demonstrated that electric power is a necessity, not an ordinary commodity. While fact finding has just begun, it’s clear that policy makers must take a hard look at the economic rules and incentives governing the power sector and assess the resilience of a vast array of critical infrastructure. To learn more read,  Yes, America can achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Here’s how.”

Key Takeaways:

3 areas for collaboration:

Current incentives create restraints on rapid change, but can overcome to meet climate goals with effective public-private collaboration in three areas:

  • Support for innovation. The federal government should invest big to help new technologies make the leap from laboratory to marketplace.
  • Inclusive policies. Indulging preferences for some solutions over others might be tenable if there was plenty of time, but getting there will require a massive increase of renewable energy; breakthroughs in energy storage technologies, such as batteries, and in new energy carriers, such as hydrogen.
  • The ability to build big and build fast. To tackle our interrelated climate and energy challenges, America must rediscover the moonshot ambition and collective sense of urgency that allowed us to put a man on the moon in less than 10 years. A century earlier we built the transcontinental railroad in just six years.

Path to 100% Perspective:

As each government and organizational leader considers the landscape of the decade of consequence for the global climate, a clear line of sight to achieve decarbonization has been set by science. 3,000 GW of installed renewable capacity is required by 2030 to achieve the lower Paris target of 2°C5. Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the IEA, said in June 2020 that world leaders have six months to put policies in place to prevent a rebound in emissions that could put that target permanently out of reach. Leaders now face a clear choice: either be shaped by the inherent shocks of a worsening climate emergency or take action to shape the energy system around the needs and impact of a net-zero future.

 

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Xcel cuts carbon emissions 50% by 2021, eyes Colorado transmission, coal plants to reach 2030 goal

At-a-Glance:

Xcel Energy estimates that it has reduced carbon emissions 50% below 2005 levels in 2020, and is on track to meet its 2030 target of reducing carbon emissions 80% in the next decade, based on its upcoming integrated resource plans (IRPs). To learn more, read “Xcel cuts carbon emissions 50% by 2021, eyes Colorado transmission, coal plants to reach 2030 goal.”

 Key Takeaways:

  • Xcel completed six wind projects in 2020, representing nearly 1,500 MW of capacity. Another 800 MW of wind projects are under construction and expected to become operational in 2021.
  • Xcel plans to file solar plans with Minnesota regulators later this year, which would have the utility develop 460 MW of solar near its Sherco coal plant – retiring in 2030 – to take advantage of existing transmission near the plant.
  • Although specifics are not available regarding Xcel’s upcoming Colorado IRP, the plan will include transmission expansion to bring additional load from remote-located renewables into the Denver area.
  • Xcel will also propose a plan for its remaining Colorado coal plants, as well as adding more renewables, to put the utility on track to reduce its carbon footprint 80% by 2030.
  • Xcel plans to exit coal entirely in Minnesota by 2030.
  • Xcel executives will continue to be bullish on electric vehicle infrastructure build outs, investing $500 million in charging stations and distribution system infrastructure over the next five years, and closer to $1.5 – 2 billion over the next decade.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Xcel is paving the path to 100% for those in the energy sector, setting and meeting ambitious carbon reduction goals and building out its renewable energy capacity. Leveraging existing infrastructure while making key investments in solar and wind will help ease the transition to 100% carbon-free energy and serve as an example to others looking to do the same.

 

 

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This is How the Government Can Ramp Up Climate Tech Investment

At-a-Glance:

The last couple of weeks have brought a steady stream of new pledges to achieve net-zero carbon emissions within the next handful of decades. And yet a report released in September, by the International Energy Agency, estimated that roughly half of the technologies that will be needed to get to net zero globally by 2050 aren’t even commercially available yet. The secret of deep decarbonization is that it won’t happen by just plugging into a wind farm or buying carbon offsets in a tropical forest. Without new technologies, it will be impossible to rein in emissions from the most-carbon intensive sectors of the economy such as heavy industry and long-distance transport. To learn more, read “This is How the Government Can Ramp Up Climate Tech Investment.”  (Reading this article requires a subscription.)

Key Takeaways:

  • Physicist Varun Sivaram sees the first step is to establish a National Energy Innovation Mission and create a White House Task Force to coordinate spending across different federal agencies. Sivaram and his team include a draft executive order in the report so the next administration can just plug and play.
  • Step two is to ramp up spending on energy innovation research and development from the current rate of about $9 billion a year to at least $25 billion by 2022.
  • The plan breaks down decarbonization into 10 categories where breakthroughs must occur. These include clean fuels, clean agricultural systems, carbon capture use and sequestration, and carbon removal.
  • One of the most persuasive moments in the report comes in a chart showing the disconnect between the sectors in the U.S. responsible for emissions and the corresponding research budget through the Department of Energy. Electricity produces 27% of emissions but gets 47% of the research dollars, while industry produces 22% of the emissions but receives 6% of the innovation funding.
  • The proposed budget would remedy that by adding money to underfunded areas, such as tripling the money for carbon capture from $115 million a year to $300 million.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Government economic stimulus must go beyond merely boosting the amount of renewables, but should also support system flexibility. We don’t just need wind turbines and solar panels but also energy storage, optimization platforms and flexible power plant technology to balance the influx of renewables. Energy storage and digital optimization is already becoming essential as we increase the amount of renewables on the grid to manage the volatility of wind and solar. Flexible gas engine technology is ready to use future fuels such as green hydrogen and synthetic methane derived from renewable energy sources (Power-to-X). These will help to balance out the longer-term needs of the grid, that can’t be matched by shorter duration energy storage.

 

Photo: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg