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.

 

Photo: Nuno Marques on Unsplash

Green hydrogen: The zero-carbon seasonal energy storage solution

At-a-Glance:

Founder and former executive director of the California Energy Storage Alliance (CESA), Janice Lin, explains the process of developing California’s 100% renewable portfolios and modelling California’s clean energy storage needs. During the process, Lin discovered the viability of green hydrogen as the solution to balance the grid. In 2019, she founded the Green Hydrogen Coalition (GHC) to research how hydrogen can offer the large-scale storage capacity and flexible discharge horizons to support a global clean energy future. To learn more, read “Green hydrogen: The zero-carbon seasonal energy storage solution.”

Key Takeaways:

  • CESA deduced that of the commercially available solutions, green hydrogen was the only low-carbon, potentially economically viable option to support seasonal, dispatchable, scalable energy storage for the grid.
  • Hydrogen gas can power the grid via multiple pathways, either through conversion in a fuel cell or by direct combustion in a gas turbine. Many gas turbines are already able to combust a blend of natural gas and hydrogen, and several leading manufacturers are developing new gas turbines that can consume 100% hydrogen gas.
  • By repurposing existing energy infrastructure, green hydrogen has the potential to make the clean energy transition affordable, reliable and scalable.
  • CESA changed their definition of energy storage to include hydrogen storage technologies, including purpose-built storage facilities as well as pipelines.
  • Green hydrogen is the ideal seasonal energy storage medium:
    • Hydrogen is abundant, offers separate power and energy scaling, can be produced from renewable energy and can be stored at scale.
  • Although lithium-ion energy storage is an important part of the toolkit, there is just not enough lithium to support the needs of a sustainable and reliable clean energy future.
  • Only abundant, available hydrogen can offer the large-scale storage capacity and flexible discharge horizons to support a global clean energy future.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Green hydrogen is produced with water, an electrolyzer and electricity generated from renewable energy. Hydrogen offers interesting possibilities for decarbonized power generation. In a power system that incorporates renewables and battery storage, for example, some of the excess renewable energy could be used to produce hydrogen that could be used in a power plant to balance the power system at times when cloudy and calm weather may reduce the output of solar and wind power plants. Hydrogen could be produced when electricity need is low, stored relatively cheaply, and used when needed. This would lower the overall cost of the clean electricity. Incorporating hydrogen in this way would add a long-term energy storage solution to the short-term storage solution provided by batteries.

 

Photo by Bekky Bekks on Unsplash

Q&A Series: Marina de Abreu Azevedo Shares Her Ideas about the Brazilian Electric Matrix

Azevedo is a doctoral student in the Energy Planning Program at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. She’s a researcher specialized in renewable energy and the Brazilian electric system at Fundação Getúlio Vargas Energy Department. Previously, Azevedo worked as an educational and sales consultant, translator, teacher and earned an internship in Health Safety and Environment (HSE) at the Natural Gas and Energy department at PETROBRAS.

 

Could you describe yourself and your work?

I’m an environmental engineer who specializes in energy planning. I finished my master’s degree in 2018 and am currently completing my Ph.D. in the Energy Planning Program from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.  

I’m also a researcher at the Center for Energy Studies at Getulio Vargas Foundation. My  renewable energy work there involves projects regarding the expansion of onshore wind in the Brazilian electric matrix, the nationalization potential of Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) technologies, energy economics and solar distributed generation. 

What made you want to join the Path to 100%?

I was invited to join Path to 100% by my doctoral supervisor since the topic is related to my thesis. I am excited to be a part of this program and have the opportunity to meet people from all over the world who have similar interests and work towards the same goal as mine: A sustainable energy transition.

Describe your passion for renewable energy and how you have put it into practice in Brazil.

I have dedicated the past 10 years to studying how the world can adapt to a more sustainable place, where development does not have to mean so much hazard and damage to the environment. I intend to keep doing this for the rest of my life. Of course, there are many ways to establish a sustainable path, but I believe that the energy sector has a major role in it, especially with renewable sources, which unlike fossil fuels, still have a major learning curve. More specifically, my thesis research focuses on studying possible 100% renewable scenarios for the Brazilian electric matrix and the social and economical impacts of them.

How would you like to see your work implemented on a global scale?

In general, I believe simply seeing countries transition to a sustainable energy matrix, supported mostly by renewables would already bring many social, economic and environmental benefits. In this context, I think Brazil can be an example to the world, since we face many social challenges and have our own, very complex energy system. 

What do you think are the best areas of opportunity for the renewable energy sector in Brazil?

Brazil is a very rich country in terms of natural resources and biodiversity. We are also a very large country, with a vast territory, big population and a severe social inequality. In turn, these factors bring a great challenge to planners.

I believe the greatest opportunities lie on embracing the country’s variety and the individual characteristics of each region. The energy sector should focus on a diverse portfolio, and the agents should invest on developing tools that value the benefits that each source brings to the system.

More specifically about renewables, Brazil has a great opportunity to serve as an example to the world because we have the potential to incorporate almost every renewable technology at stake on the market. This includes the more conventional renewables, such as onshore wind and solar photovoltaics, but also biodiesels, pumped storage hydros, offshore wind, wave energy, CSP technology, and more.

Now, what do you consider to be the main barriers or challenges Brazil faces on its path to clean and affordable energy?

I believe the biggest barriers we face concerns the low political interests regarding sustainable development and the broad population lack of knowledge on the matter.  To strengthen renewables, it is necessary to have a regulation that supports new technologies in time for them to become competitive. Additionally, we need to promote local generation. In order for that to happen, we need more partnerships between industry, government and academia. 

Finally, how can Brazil lead the way towards 100 percent renewable energy? And what progress do you foresee for the region in the coming years?

Brazil has a very distinguished energy system and a very renewable matrix, which is unusual for a country of its size. We should assess the complementarity between sources and their impacts, as the matrix becomes more intermittent with the continued growth of renewables. Other countries that still have a larger path to pursue for an 100 percent renewables scenario can benefit from our experience.