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.

 

 

 

Jussi Heikkinen on how to build the energy system of the future

How do we build the energy system of the future?

Jussi Heikkinen, Director of Growth & Development at Wärtsilä Energy in the Americas, has 40 years of experience in the energy sector so he has some expert insight into the issue, which he shared on a recent Wärtsilä podcast with Terence Mentor.

​​The main goal should be to increase renewables and ramp down fossil fuel power plants, according to Heikkinen. At the same time, we must make sure that we can ensure the security of the electricity supply under all conditions, while still producing minimal carbon emissions.

Many people ask why we can’t just switch to renewables like wind and solar power now? They are already becoming increasingly important in power generation across the world. The reason is because so much of our electricity is still being provided by inflexible coal plants.

Heikkiinen says to be able to switch completely to renewables, we have to build sufficient capacity in renewables, energy storage, and flexible gas power plants to produce electricity reliably in all situations. If we act decisively, we can close coal plants within the next 10 years, but we can’t suddenly simply ban fossil fuels outright, as it would affect the welfare of society. Instead, we need a good plan to carry it out.

Learn more about the ideal plan here.

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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How Utah Olympic bid could bolster shift to clean energy

At-a-Glance: 

Salt Lake City is vying to host the Olympic Games in 2030 or 2034, but all host cities must meet the demands of the International Olympic Committee to “run a two-week, snow-based international sporting event and leave the climate better off than before.” It’s hoped this will catalyze the clean energy transition in Utah, where more than 60 percent of the state’s net electricity generation came from coal in 2021. For more read: How Utah Olympic bid could bolster shift to clean energy.

Key Takeaways:

  • Mario Molina, president of the climate advocacy group Protect Our Winters, said that an Olympics bid should put pressure not just on the host city, but the state and entire country, to be more aggressive about renewable energy — even with Utah’s current reliance on fossil fuels.
  • According to IOC guidance issued in 2020, organizing committees for each Olympics will be required to minimize and compensate direct and indirect carbon emissions created by the event, as well as implement “lasting zero-carbon solutions for the Olympic Games and beyond.”
  • Salt Lake City has set a goal of achieving net 100 percent renewable electricity by 2030.
  • A study from the University of Waterloo found that without action to curtail greenhouse gas emissions, only one of 21 previous Winter Olympics host cities — Sapporo, Japan, which hosted in 1972 — would have the right climate conditions to hold a safe event by 2080. Even if the goals of the Paris climate accord are met, the report said, only eight of the 21 cities would have the right conditions.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Massive world events like the Olympic games can influence change. It is encouraging that the IOC is requiring future host cities to think about the environment and make it a requirement. If Salt Lake City can achieve its decarbonization goals, in cooperation with the state of Utah and other surrounding cities, it can be an example to other cities around the world.

Australia and U.S. Join Forces on the Path to Net-Zero

At-a-Glance: 

The United States and Australia signed the Australia – United States Net-Zero Technology Acceleration Partnership at the Sydney Energy Forum, a formal partnership to accelerate the development and deployment of zero emissions technology, and cooperate on critical minerals supply chains to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while supercharging economic growth. For more read: Australia and U.S. Join Forces on the Path to Net-Zero.

Key Takeaways:

  • Both countries share ambitious targets to reach net-zero by 2050.
  • The two countries will work together to unlock critical advances in long-duration storage, grid integration, clean hydrogen, direct air capture, and critical minerals and materials – providing an essential opportunity to export the innovations that will accelerate the global clean energy transition.
  • Cooperation will be practical, inclusive of industry, research and private sector to drive investment, trade, and development of commercial opportunities between our countries in low and zero emissions technologies and critical material that will drive them.
  • Initial areas for cooperation include the development of long duration energy storage technology, as well as digital electricity grids and technology to support the integration of variable renewable energy, hydrogen, and carbon dioxide removal, including direct air capture.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Cooperation, not only across the world but on a smaller scale, should help accelerate the decarbonization journey for everyone. A key obstacle to achieving net zero in some countries is the lack of the local government’s understanding and acceptance that decarbonization can’t be achieved overnight but through careful planning and measured steps along the way. You can’t simply shut down coal-powered plants and switch completely to wind and solar because they aren’t always reliable. First, you need storage capabilities and a flexible power plant, capable of starting and stopping when needed, to ensure electricity is available.

Much-Watched Reciprocating Engine Hydrogen Pilot Kicks Off at Michigan Power Plant

At-a-Glance: 

A landmark project to test fuel blends of up to 25% volume of hydrogen mixed with natural gas in reciprocating internal combustion engines (RICEs) has launched at WEC Energy Group’s 56-MW A.J. Mihm power plant in Michigan. If successful, the pilot—one of the first of its kind in the U.S.—could provide key insight into how hydrogen combustion at RICE units could be replicated across the U.S. You can read more here: Much-Watched Reciprocating Engine Hydrogen Pilot Kicks Off at Michigan Power Plant.

Key Takeaways:

  • A consortium comprising Finnish technology giant Wärtsilä, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), and Burns & McDonnell on May 30 unveiled a contract with Milwaukee-based WEC Energy’s subsidiary Upper Michigan Energy Resources for the fuel testing pilot.
  • One of the plant’s three18.8-MW Wärtsilä W18V50SG natural gas-fired engines wil be used in the testing and will continue to supply power to the grid as the hydrogen share in its fuel mix is gradually increased to a maximum of 25% by volume.
  • Wärtsilä has researched hydrogen as a fuel for 20 years as part of its strategy to “future-proof its engine technology in line with the global trend towards decarbonization of the energy and marine markets.”
  • The project could help establish RICEs as a future-proof technology, allowing for the flexibility needed to incorporate more renewable energy sources onto the grid. Its ability to provide incremental electricity quickly—starting up even when the grid has no power—and operating at partial loads, give it a key advantage over more traditional power plants.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Both flexibility and reliability will be crucial as we transition to a clean energy future. Just adding wind and solar generated power will not be enough. Those renewable sources, while powerful and cost-efficient, are also dependent on the weather conditions. RICE, along with adequate storage solutions, appears to offer the ideal solution to ensure stability to the grid. 

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U.S. Dept. Of Energy Joins New Federal–State Partnership To Grow Domestic Offshore Wind Supply Chain

At-a-Glance: 

The first of its kind forum between 11 East Coast Governors and Administration officials will enable collaboration to build a strong, U.S.-based supply chain for offshore wind, grow a skilled U.S. workforce, and accelerate work to address important regional matters. The partnership will advance the industry’s rapid development and provide more affordable clean energy to all Americans. Read more: U.S. Dept. Of Energy Joins New Federal–State Partnership To Grow Domestic Offshore Wind Supply Chain

Key Takeaways:

  • State and federal collaboration will help achieve the U.S. goal of 30 GW of offshore wind capacity by 2030. Achieving this goal will result in an expected $12 billion in annual investment in offshore wind projects, which in turn can lead to the construction of up to 10 manufacturing plants for offshore wind turbine components and new ships to install the turbines.
  • The partnership will advance the industry’s rapid development and provide more affordable clean energy to all Americans, helping accelerate President Biden’s goal of 30GW of offshore wind capacity by 2030 and 100% clean electricity by 2035.
  • A report from the National Offshore Wind R&D Consortium forecasts the need for an offshore wind workforce averaging between 12,300 and 49,000 full time workers annually.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Renewable energy resources, like wind and solar, are the key to decarbonization around the world. This investment is a huge step for the United States towards that goal. It is also important to remember that these renewable energy sources are also variable. If the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing, power operators need to have a reliable backup. Energy storage and power plants that can be started quickly when needed will be important to reliable energy generation in the future.

Hydrogen Risks Being The Great Missed Opportunity Of The Energy Transition

At-a-Glance: 

Hydrogen is required to decarbonizing industries that cannot be easily electrified, like deep sea shipping, aviation, and high heat industrial processes. Yet, Forbes’ recent forecast Hydrogen Future to 2050 finds that hydrogen uptake will be far too slow. To meet the Paris Agreement goals, by 2050 hydrogen should meet approximately 15% of energy demand, but our findings show it will reach just 0.5% by 2030 and 5% by mid-century. Read more: Hydrogen Risks Being The Great Missed Opportunity Of The Energy Transition.  

Key Takeaways:

  • Even if hydrogen production is forecast to fall short of what it needs to be, huge investment opportunities exist. 
  • Electricity-based green hydrogen – produced by splitting hydrogen from water using electrolyzers – will be the dominant form of production by the middle of the century, accounting for 72% of output.
  • Hydrogen will be transported by pipelines up to medium distances within and between countries, but almost never between continents. Ammonia – a derivative of hydrogen – is safer and more convenient to transport and is more suitable for long distance seaborne trade. 
  • Cost considerations will lead to more than 50% of hydrogen pipelines globally being repurposed from natural gas pipelines, rising to as high as 80% in some regions
  • Hydrogen derivatives like ammonia, methanol and e-kerosene will play a key role in decarbonizing the heavy transport sectors (aviation, maritime, and parts of trucking). We do not foresee hydrogen uptake in passenger vehicles, and only limited uptake in power generation. 

Path to 100% Perspective:

Hydrogen is the biggest buzz word these days when it comes to decarbonization, and for good reason. It’s carbon-free, can easily be created from and used to store renewable energy sources, and can be used in gas turbines to increase power system flexibility and reduce carbon emissions. Wartsila is currently participating in hydrogen fuel testing at a power plant in Michigan.

While it’s likely that hydrogen and its derivatives will likely be one of the sustainable fuels of the future, it is not certain. The key for power producers is to invest in flexibility now with engines capable of running on natural gas/hydrogen blends that can be easily converted to operate on whatever fuel becomes the most available in the future.

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