NREL Study Identifies Opportunities & Challenges Of Achieving The U.S. Transformational Goal Of 100% Clean Electricity By 2035

At-a-Glance: 

A new report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) examines the types of clean energy technologies and the scale and pace of deployment needed to achieve 100% clean electricity, or a net-zero power grid, in the United States by 2035.

Key Takeaways:

  • Overall, NREL finds multiple pathways to 100% clean electricity by 2035 that would produce significant benefits, but the exact technology mix and costs will be determined by research and development (R&D), manufacturing, and infrastructure investment decisions over the next decade.
  • To achieve 100% clean electricity by 2035, new clean energy technologies will have to be deployed at an unprecedented scale. Modeling shows that wind and solar would need to supply 60% to 80% of generation. Getting there would require an additional 40–90 gigawatts of solar on the grid per year and 70–150 gigawatts of wind per year by the end of this decade – more than four times the current annual deployment levels for each technology.
  • Seasonal storage, like clean hydrogen-fueled combustion turbines, is important when clean electricity makes up about 80%–95% of generation. Achieving the needed amount of storage requires substantial development of infrastructure, including fuel storage, transportation and pipeline networks, and additional generation capacity needed to produce clean fuels.
  • Overall, NREL finds in all modeled scenarios that the health and climate benefits associated with fewer emissions exceed the power system costs to get to 100% clean electricity.

Path to 100% Perspective

Achieving ambitious decarbonization goals will require a reduction of reliance on fossil fuels and an increase in renewable energy. What will be critical to the transformation is a reliable source of energy when sources like wind or solar are not producing enough. The most economical long-duration storage is formed with green hydrogen-based sustainable fuels, such as hydrogen, ammonia, carbon neutral methanol and methane. These fuels can be used to generate electricity in flexible power plants. Such flexible power plants provide carbon neutral firm, dispatchable capacity to the grid at any time.

Sustainable fuels can be produced using a process called Power-to-Gas (PtG), which uses surplus solar and wind energy to produce renewable fuels, like synthetic methane and hydrogen. Hydrogen as a fuel is carbon-free and synthetic methane produced using carbon recycled from the air, is a carbon-neutral fuel.

 

1 In 3 Americans Live In State With 100% Clean Electricity Commitment

At-a-Glance: 

While only ten states in the United States have set 100% renewable energy goals, 1 out of every 3 Americans actually live in a state that has made some sort of clean electricity commitment. California accounts for the seemed disparity, since it’s home to so many people. Read more in 1 In 3 Americans Live In State With 100% Clean Electricity Commitment.

Key Takeaways:

  • Since it is home to 39.35 million people, 12% of the USA’s population of 329.5 million, California alone already puts us at 1 out of every 8 Americans.
  • These 10 states have made a clean energy commitment: California, Hawaii, New Mexico, Washington, Rhode Island, Maine, New York, Virginia, Oregon, and Illinois.
  • If you don’t live in a state with clean energy goals, Environment America writes, “Tell your governor to commit to 100% renewable.” Included at this link is a way to quickly and easily send a message to your governor pushing for a 100% renewable electricity commitment. 
  • in the private sector, a great source for encouraging and tracking commitments from companies around the world is RE100. RE100 reports that there are now 370+ companies that have 100% renewable commitments of some sort.

Path to 100% Perspective

It’s encouraging to hear that 10 states have already set decarbonization goals, but it isn’t enough. The Path to 100% will take support from everyone– from government and business leaders to private citizens. While the path isn’t the same everywhere, it includes some common steps, like increasing the use of renewables while incorporating storage and flexible power plants that can provide a source of energy backup when renewables like wind and solar are not enough. Without a plan to ensure firm, reliable power at all times, support of the energy transition could decrease.

 

 

DOE awarding $540 million to ramp up clean energy research

At-a-Glance: 

The United States Department of Energy (DOE) announced it will grant 54 universities and 11 national labs over $500 million to conduct research on clean energy technologies and low-carbon manufacturing, ranging from direct air capture to carbon storage and sequestration. The move comes on the heels of the passage of President Biden’s historic Inflation Reduction Act, which aims to significantly cut emissions by 2030. By 2050, Biden hopes to have a net-zero emissions economy. Read more in DOE awarding $540 million to ramp up clean energy research.

Key Takeaways:

  • “Meeting the Biden-Harris Administration’s ambitious climate and clean energy goals will require a game-changing commitment to clean energy — and that begins with researchers across the country,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm in a statement
  • Carbon dioxide emissions resulting from fossil fuel use are a significant driver of climate change.
  • A large portion of the money, $400 million, will go towards establishing and maintaining 43 Energy Frontier Research Centers, while these projects will study multiple topics including energy storage and quantum information science. 

Path to 100% Perspective

This is a great commitment by the U.S. federal government to influence positive change. While many of the tools for decarbonization already exist, there are problems to overcome like how to create long-term energy storage. There is promise in Power-to-X technology, a carbon-neutral solution that uses renewable energy to produce green hydrogen and other future fuels that can be used for affordable long-term storage. It is exciting to see the outcome of the vast research resources now committed to this effort.

 

 

 

Utilities are planning to shift to clean energy — just not too quickly

At-a-Glance: 

CEO of electricity research group EPRI says U.S. utilities are poised to go big on solar, wind and batteries — but they aren’t ready to give up their gas and coal plants just yet.

“You will also hear every one of [these utilities] saying that if we don’t take care of affordability and reliability, that will be the biggest obstacle to go to clean energy, because if customers get upset, it will have a negative impact on the clean energy transition.” said Arshad Mansoor, CEO of the Electric Power Research Institute. Read more in Utilities are planning to shift to clean energy — just not too quickly

Key Takeaways:

  • At EPRI’s Electrification 2022 conference, leading utilities unanimously embraced cutting carbon emissions and electrifying transportation. However, they urged caution at moving too quickly.
  • Most utilities know this is the decade to invest in wind, solar and battery storage. They have determined that grids can handle levels of renewable generation that were previously unthinkable — in fact, this is already happening in many states.
  • The COVID pandemic came at the worst time, causing major delays in the supply chain and slowing the construction of renewable resources.
  • Mansoor feels it may be necessary to keep some coal plants around as backup power sources to ensure a reliable power source, because wind and solar power is not always reliable and battery technology is not yet capable of long-term duration.
  • He says clean firm resources such as small modular nuclear reactors or clean hydrogen-burning turbines could eventually take that role, as could cheap long-duration energy storage, but they’re all still years away.

Path to 100% Perspective

The Path to 100% agrees that the way to a 100% clean energy future is through increased renewable energy sources like wind and solar power while maintaining a reliable backup system. To balance the intermittent nature of these renewable power sources, engine power plants and energy storage are ideal. While we are waiting for battery storage to improve, Wartsila’s flexible power plants are already generating reliable, backup power when solar and wind are not enough. They are capable of powering up and down quickly, unlike traditional coal-powered thermal power plants which could take hours to ramp up when energy is needed.

 

 

Wärtsilä to supply Clearway with 500 MW/2 GWh of energy storage for projects in California and Hawaii

At-a-Glance: 

Wärtsilä has reached an agreement with Clearway Energy Group on a contract that will see it supply Clearway with a 500 MW/2 GWh portfolio of energy storage systems. The storage systems will be used across a series of solar and storage projects that Clearway is developing in California and Hawaii. The five-project portfolio includes 75 MWac/300 MWh located in Hawaii and 415 MW/1.7 GW in California. For more read: Wärtsilä to supply Clearway with 500 MW/2 GWh of energy storage for projects in California and Hawaii.

Key Takeaways:

  • In Hawaii, Clearway is developing the Mililani I Solar and Waiawa Solar Power facilities on the Island of Oahu and represent Wärtsilä’s first large-scale energy storage systems in the state. 
  • The addition of energy storage will help Clearway Energy Group ensure reliable delivery of sustainable energy and contribute to Hawaii’s goal of reaching 100% renewable energy generation by 2045.
  • In California, 482 MW of solar and 275 MW/1.1 GWh of energy storage are being split across the Daggett 2 and Daggett 3 projects, which are being developed in San Bernardino, California, adjacent to the site of a retired coal and natural gas plant.
  • The storage systems will deliver renewable energy during increasingly volatile peak periods and help the state reach its goal of 100% carbon-free electricity by 2045.
  • Each facility will include Wärtsilä’s GridSolv Quantum, a fully integrated, modular and compact energy storage system, as well as the GEMS Digital Energy Platform, Wärtsilä’s energy management platform for power system optimisation. 

Path to 100% Perspective

To achieve goals of both reliable and renewable energy, it is critical to think beyond solar panels and wind turbines. The addition of storage technologies is essential because both wind and solar technology is dependent on the weather. The storage system is one way to ensure there is enough power when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing. To take it one step further, power producers should also invest in flexible engines, capable of starting and stopping when needed to ensure a reliable energy supply.

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In a Twist, Old Coal Plants Help Deliver Renewable Power. Here’s How.

At-a-Glance: 

Across the country, aging and defunct coal-burning power plants are getting new lives as solar, battery and other renewable energy projects, partly because they have a decades-old feature that has become increasingly valuable: They are already wired into the power grid. Read more here: In a Twist, Old Coal Plants Help Deliver Renewable Power. Here’s How.

Key Takeaways:

  • The miles of high-tension wires and towers needed to connect power plants to customers can be costly, time consuming and controversial to build from scratch. So solar and other projects are avoiding regulatory hassles, and potentially speeding up the transition to renewable energy, by plugging into the unused connections left behind.
  • Over the past two decades, more than 600 coal-burning generators totaling about 85 gigawatts of generating capacity have retired, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
  • In addition to the connectivity, reusing the old coal plants is an effort to reinvest in the communities that have lost the coal plants in the first place, though it likely would not replace all of the jobs lost.
  • Coal plants also typically sit on a sizable parcel of land, and redeveloping those sites into renewable energy projects is a way to put something productive on a piece of property that might otherwise go unused.

Path to 100% Perspective

One of the most important keys to a 100% renewable energy future is the retirement of coal-fired power plants while investing in other sources like wind and solar. This is the perfect synergy needed to advance the transition and it is very symbolic as well. Using the existing resources and connections is an effective way to overcome some of the obstacles faced by clean energy producers.

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#PathTalks: Energy transition in Central America and the Caribbean

The renewable energy transition is complex, but it is possible, practical and affordable.

#PathTalks‘ Host Fernanda Castro speaks with Business Development Manager, Energy Solutions, Central America & Caribbean for Wärtsilä, Francisco Picasso about the energy transition and excitement around renewable fuels, energy storage and progress being made around renewable energy in Central America.

 

#PathTalks: Chile moving towards a future of 100% renewable energy

Chile has one of the most ambitious decarbonization plans in the world, targeting carbon neutral electricity in 2050. This South American country is already at a 70% renewable energy share with some of the world’s best wind and solar resources available. It is possible to retire coal in Chile before 2030 and to reach a 100% carbon neutral power system before 2050.

#PathTalks host Fernanda Castro speaks with Wärtsilä Chile General Manager, Alejandro McDonough about the updated study “Towards a Future of 100% Renewable Energies” and what it could mean in accelerating the energy transition in Chile.

The study indicates that although competitive renewable energy and battery storage are available, the missing piece of the puzzle is long-term energy storage, which has the role of ensuring proper system function and reliability even during longer usual weather patterns such as drought, extreme heat or cold waves, cloud cover and rain, low wind periods as well as low solar seasons such as winter.

This video is in Spanish, but includes English subtitles.

#PathTalks: Developments and challenges of decarbonization in Brazil

#PathTalk Host Fernanda Castro chats with Wärtsilä AMER Region South Energy Business Director Jorge Alcaide and Wärtsilä Senior Manager, Project Development Gabriel Cavados about the opportunities and challenges of Brazil’s energy transition to decarbonization.

Want to know more about energy transition in Brazil? Join Jorge, Gabriel and industry experts to discuss ways to balance the electrical system with large renewable share.

This video is in Portuguese, but it includes English subtitles.

Should Google and Microsoft focus on sourcing their own 100% clean power or cleaning up the dirtiest grids?

At-a-Glance:

Major companies with ambitious clean energy goals face a complicated set of options for how they ought to prioritize their efforts over the coming decade. Should they make their own electricity supply as clean as possible, or should they focus first on cleaning up the dirtiest power grids? To learn more, read, “Should Google and Microsoft focus on sourcing their own 100% clean power or cleaning up the dirtiest grids?”

Key Takeaways:

  • Google’s 24/7 clean energy pledge, made a year ago, which sets a 2030 deadline for powering its data centers and corporate campuses with 100 percent carbon-free energy every hour of the year.
  • Microsoft followed up earlier this year with a 100/100/0 pledge to match 100 percent of its corporate power consumption with zero-carbon resources 100 percent of the time by decade’s end.
  • Maximizing corporate carbon reductions has been gaining traction in recent years: investing in clean energy projects based on their ​“emissionality,” or their ability to directly reduce carbon emissions

Path to 100% Perspective: 

Clean energy goals along with clean energy investments is accelerating the decarbonization journey by putting a focus on decreasing carbon emissions. Google and Microsoft have been making headlines for their clean energy efforts for several years. Each organization has been able to promote their 100% achievements within the past five years. The path to 100% renewable energy does not look the same for every organization, community or region, but the steps to decarbonization are similar. Investing in renewable energy as well as clean-technology is consistently producing clean energy solutions as well as additional pledges and milestone accomplishments.

Photo by Mitchell Luo on Unsplash

California to boost solar and wind capacity to meet renewable goals

At-a-Glance:

The California Independent System Operator (CAISO) region plans to increase its solar and wind power capacity in 2021 to help meet the state’s target of 50% renewable generation by 2025, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). To learn more, read, “California to boost solar and wind capacity to meet renewable goals.”

Key Takeaways:

  • The CAISO plans to add an additional 1.6 gigawatts (GW) of utility-scale solar capacity, 0.4 GW of onshore wind turbine capacity and 2.5 GW of battery storage capacity this year, the EIA said.
    • These batteries could be charged using renewable power generation that would otherwise have been curtailed.
  • Additionally, two projects are being developed to facilitate hydrogen production and hydrogen-based energy storage, which could also help reduce curtailments of excess solar output.
  • Excess supply from renewable sources has prompted the grid to increasingly curtail solar and wind generation at times, even as it struggles to balance its clean energy push with the need to boost tight power supplies and avoid rolling blackouts amid heatwaves.

Path to 100% Perspective: 

California can reach its goal of serving 100% of retail load with renewable energy. However, this cannot be achieved with its current portfolio of resources. The rolling blackouts in summer 2020 show that California needs additional resources to supplement the tools already in place. More specifically, California needs new resources that complement the wind, solar, and hydro needed for a shift to a 100% renewable electricity system. Slow ramping, long start, baseload resources must be replaced by faster, more flexible resources that are capable of running on sustainable fuels. Sustainable fuels produced by excess wind and solar energy, plus storage resources, can enable California to cleanly and reliably shift energy from low-net loads to high-net loads.

 

Photo by Anders J on Unsplash

Corporate giants back clean energy standard

At-a-Glance:

Over 75 companies including names like General Motors, Apple, Unilever and eBay are urging lawmakers to require that power companies supply rising amounts of zero-carbon electricity. A new open letter shows an effort to keep a proposed “clean energy standard” (CES) in the mix on Capitol Hill despite huge political hurdles. To learn more, read “Corporate giants back clean energy standard.”

Key Takeaways:

  • The effort is organized by the sustainable investment advocacy group Ceres, the Environmental Defense Fund and others.
  • “A federal clean electricity standard should achieve 80 percent carbon pollution-free electricity by 2030 on the pathway to 100% clean power by 2035,” the letter states.
  • “Millions of Americans are already feeling the impacts of climate change. From recent extreme weather to deadly wildfires and record-breaking hurricanes, the human and economic losses are profound,” the letter continues.

Path to 100% Perspective: 

The eyes of the world are now on the energy sector. Global leaders now expect power producers to deliver the lion’s share of emissions cuts that are so vital for meeting national decarbonisation goals. Investment remains a key hurdle, especially in the post-COVID world. The International Energy Agency (IEA) calculates that investment in clean electricity must leap from $380 billion to $1.6 trillion by 2030 to put us on a path to net zero by 2050. As a result, oncoming incentives and regulation are set to ensure clean power is always the most attractive option. 

 

Photo by Laurenz Heymann on Unsplash