2020 Set A New Record For Renewable Energy. What’s The Catch?

At-a-Glance:

All over the world, the growth of green energy is accelerating. More than 80% of all new electricity generating projects built last year were renewable, leading to a 10.3% rise in total installed zero carbon electricity generation globally, a new report shows. Yet in spite of reduced energy demand in 2020 as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, fossil fuel electricity generation also continued to grow. So, therefore, did carbon emissions. To learn more, read “2020 Set A New Record For Renewable Energy. What’s The Catch?” Reading this article may require a subscription from the news outlet.

Key Takeaways:

  • The report, from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), revealed that 91% of new renewables last year were wind and solar projects, with solar generation having grown the fastest, up by 127 gigawatts—a 22% increase from 2019.
  • But the IRENA report also found that, in spite of lower energy demand and the larger share of renewables in 2020, fossil fuel capacity also increased, though not by quite as much as seen during the previous year, rising 60 gigawatts as compared with 64 gigawatts in 2019.
  • A plan to retire and replace coal and gas plants is essential to reduce emissions, as well as enable workers from those industries to transition into the renewable energy sector.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Renewable energy is widely acknowledged to create more jobs than fossil fuels. McKinsey Sustainability, for example, reports that for every $10 million USD of government spending on renewable technologies 75 jobs are typically created, compared to 27 jobs in the fossil fuels sector. Additionally, renewable energy generates more labor-intensive jobs in the short run, when jobs are scarce, which boosts spending and increases short-run GDP. In the long run, renewable energy requires less labor for operation and maintenance, which frees up labor as the economy returns to capacity.

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Texas Moves to Make Generators Winterize, Bar Future Griddys

At-a-Glance:

The Texas Senate passed a sweeping bill to overhaul the state’s electricity market following February’s historic blackouts by forcing power plants to winterize and barring the type of business model used by Griddy Energy. To learn more, read “Texas Moves to Make Generators Winterize, Bar Future Griddys.” Reading this article may require a subscription from the news outlet.

Key Takeaways:

  • The measure, which still needs approval by the state’s House of Representatives, would require the owners of all power generators, transmission lines, natural gas facilities and pipelines to protect their facilities against extreme weather or face a penalty of up to $1 million a day.
  • On March 30, the Texas house preliminarily approved its own package of bills designed to respond to the grid failure. They include a measure that would only require power plants and power line owners to weatherize.
  • Both House and Senate measures would ban power providers from offering electricity plans tied to the state’s volatile wholesale power market, a practice that resulted in exorbitant bills for customers during the energy crisis.
  • The Senate bill would change the way that electricity is priced during an emergency to protect utilities from sky-high bills and require renewable energy sources to have backup plans to provide power at critical periods by purchasing so-called ancillary services.

Path to 100% Perspective:

The Texas blackouts are an urgent indication that recommendations should be turned into common-sense regulation that leads to grid reliability and ratepayer protection. Regulators and system planners analyze energy use based on one event in ten years. The current planning process does not account for extreme weather conditions that happen once in a hundred years, such as the system that moved through Texas in February. As climate change progresses, such events are forecasted to become more frequent, and should be considered during planning.


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Study: California can Reach a Decarbonized Electric Grid Affordably and Reliably by 2045

At-a-Glance:

California can eliminate carbon emissions without markedly increasing the cost of electricity while preserving the reliability of the state’s grid, according to an analysis published in the online journal, Issues in Science and Technology. To learn more, read Study: California can Reach a Decarbonized Electric Grid Affordably and Reliably by 2045.”

Key Takeaways:

  • The study employed three different models of California’s electricity system to quantify the costs of a variety of future scenarios for new sources of clean, reliable electric power.
    • Each team’s model determined how much electricity would cost under a variety of scenarios.
    • The models also considered the physical implications of building the decarbonized grid, examining questions like how much infrastructure would be required; how quickly the state would need to build it; and how much land would be needed.
    • While each team approached the challenge differently, they all produced similar results that kept the cost of generation and transmission between 7 and 10 cents per kilowatt hour, comparable to the current costs of generation and transmission for California’s investor-owned utilities.
  • While the teams found that renewables like wind and solar will remain critical to the state’s path toward decarbonization, California will need to tap into clean electricity that is available on demand, for as long as it is needed, whenever it is needed.
    • Known as “clean firm power,” this type of energy includes geothermal and nuclear power as well as natural gas that utilizes carbon capture and storage technology to sequester CO2.
    • Clean fuels such as hydrogen manufactured with no life-cycle emissions could also be added to the mix.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Meeting California’s goal of 100% renewable electricity by 2045 while ensuring affordable and reliable power is a tremendous challenge. This analysis shows the potential of Power-to-Gas technology, in conjunction with energy storage, as a source of firm carbon-neutral power that can help the state achieve an optimal, decarbonized power system while keeping costs low for ratepayers and ensuring a secure supply of electricity.

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Los Angeles now has a road map for 100% renewable energy

At-a-Glance:

Los Angeles is one of the last places in California still burning coal for electricity — and if all goes according to plan, it could become one of the country’s first major cities to nearly eliminate fossil fuels from its power supply. In a first-of-its-kind study commissioned by the city and released, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory concluded L.A. is capable of achieving 98% clean energy within the next decade and 100% by 2035, meeting one of President Biden’s most ambitious climate goals. And it can do so without causing blackouts or disrupting the economy, the federal research lab found, undercutting two of the most common arguments used by opponents of climate action. To learn more, read “Los Angeles now has a road map for 100% renewable energy.”  Reading this article may require a subscription from the news outlet.

Key Takeaways:

  • The NREL study team included nearly 100 people and was aided by the “Eagle” supercomputer at the research lab’s Golden, Colo., headquarters.
  • They conducted an energy systems analysis they believe to be unprecedented in scope and detail, running more than 100 million simulations since 2017 and integrating heaps of modeling data on electricity use, job creation, weather conditions, power lines and the potential for rooftop solar panels on houses across Los Angeles, among other topics.
  • Under a different scenario, L.A. would still get about 10% of its electricity from gas come 2045, down from 24% today.
  • Every pathway outlined by NREL includes geothermal power plants, which tap the Earth’s subterranean heat and can generate climate-friendly energy around the clock, as well as pumped hydropower, which can store solar and wind longer than a typical battery. Several pathways in the study also assume the city keeps its 5.7% ownership stake in Arizona’s Palo Verde nuclear plant.

Path to 100% Perspective:

California already has the natural gas infrastructure in place to follow the Optimal Path. The state’s existing gas storage capacity and distribution systems can easily provide the necessary 8 TWh of reliable, fully dispatchable renewable energy while using only 15 percent of existing underground gas storage capacity. This alleviates concerns around “stranded assets” since flexible generation plants can shift at any time to burn synthetic methane, even before 2045. California’s current plan without thermal generation would require an investment of $309 billion between 2021 and 2045 to add another 1,624 GWh of battery storage and electricity generation cost would jump to a sky-high 128 $ / MWh. However, the Optimal Path would save the state $176 billion with Power-to-Gas and thermal generation as long term energy storage between 2021 and 2045 and electricity generation cost would be $50 / MWh in 2045. More batteries without thermal generation is not affordable and is not enough to create a resilient or reliable grid.

 

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Deregulation Is Not The Central Culprit For Texas’ Electricity Crisis

At-a-Glance:

The $1 billion class-action lawsuit filed against the Texas wholesale electricity retailer Griddy Energy is triggering questions about who is to blame for the state’s mid-winter blackout. The core question, though, is whether restructuring Texas’ electricity markets in the early 2000’s exacerbated the crisis. To learn more, read Deregulation Is Not The Central Culprit For Texas’ Electricity Crisis.” Reading this article may require a subscription from the news outlet.

Key Takeaways:

  •  Since 2002, consumers could choose their retail electric provider, which purchases its power from competing generators. Millions of Texas’ customers chose competitive suppliers. Others opted for the regulated rate.
  • The Wall Street Journal reported that customers in Texas who selected the competitive plans paid 13% more than the national average between 2004 and 2019. Customers choosing the regulated plan, conversely, paid 8% less during that same time frame.
  • Customers choosing competitive suppliers will in theory make their homes more energy-efficient and use demand response signals to reduce their bills. In the case of the Texas blackouts, however, the price spikes lasted for days and prompted the $9,000 per megawatt-hour regulatory limit.
  •  As renewables start to make up a greater share of the electricity portfolio, greater attention will need to be paid to improving energy efficiency and decentralizing electricity production and delivery systems.
  • Greater resiliency will also need to be built into the power grid, given the intermittent nature of wind and solar, including weatherizing every form of energy generation and delivery so that whole supply chains don’t freeze up.

Path to 100% Perspective:

There must be adequate, dispatchable power for unusual weather events, especially as global reliance on renewables continues to grow. The ideal power system of the future will maintain reliability while continuing to make a decarbonized future a reality by utilizing curtailed solar and wind power to produce future fuels such as green hydrogen, ammonia or carbon-neutral methane to power on-demand power generation. As the energy transition continues, power plants must be able to balance and respond to the grid to produce power during periods when the renewable generation does not match the load – during the winter and unusual weather conditions such as heat waves.

 

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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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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.

 

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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.