California’s pathway to 100% clean electricity begins to take shape, but reliability concerns persist

At-a-Glance

California’s energy agencies are taking a first stab at assessing possible pathways to the state’s ambitious goal of achieving 100% renewable and zero-carbon electricity by 2045, but concerns about system reliability — especially in light of the rolling blackouts — continue to plague regulators. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), California Energy Commission (CEC) and California Air Resources Board (CARB) released a draft report on getting to a 2045 clean electricity portfolio, which indicated the goal is technically achievable. To learn more, read “California’s pathway to 100% clean electricity begins to take shape, but reliability concerns persist.”

Key Takeaways

  • The report presents important initial insights into potential paths for the electric sector, Mary Nichols, CARB chair, said at the workshop, adding that “the initial work highlights the enormous challenge ahead, requiring a complete transformation in the type of electricity that Californians consume.”
  • California’s carbon goals are part of legislation passed by the state in 2018, called Senate Bill 100, which calls for 100% of electric retail sales in the state to come from renewable energy and zero-carbon resources by the end of 2045.
  • The bill also required the three energy agencies to create a report evaluating the policy and follow it up with updates at least every four years. The agencies intend to submit a final version of the initial report early next year.
  • Based on this analysis, the report concludes that achieving the 100% clean electricity goal is technically achievable, and could cost around 6% more than the baseline 60% Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) future by 2045, although that could change if renewables continue to decline in cost at a faster rate than anticipated by the models.

Path to 100% Perspective

A place where the transition to renewables has progressed quite far already is California. The lessons learned along the way have been plentiful, but powerful nonetheless. The record-breaking heat wave that swept across the western part of the country and caused a series of blackouts in the Golden State, offered additional modelling opportunities to demonstrate the most effective mix of energy to accommodate any extreme weather situation during the transition, and to meet clean power mandates. The big challenge facing California and the rest of the world is how to integrate renewables into the grid while building security of supply and a sustainable power system with an affordable plan for everyone involved.

 

 

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Hydrogen era no longer a distant mirage

At-a-Glance

For decades oil producers have stored fossil fuels in manmade caverns carved into naturally occurring salt domes, deep below the surface of the U.S. Gulf Coast. Now, this hydrogen infrastructure will form the center of several marquee initiatives launched in 2020 to unlock the much broader potential of the most abundant element in the universe. To learn more, read “Hydrogen era no longer a distant mirage.”

Key Takeaways

  • Hydrogen will power fuel cells to drive passenger vehicles, heavy-duty trucks, ships, airplanes, as well as heat and light buildings. It will enable levels of decarbonization unimaginable using only renewable resources and battery storage.
  • With limited demand and no real scale to date, green hydrogen sourced from renewable energy can cost four times as much as other options, according to the International Energy Agency.
  • “A truly hydrogen-based economy … appears out of reach, at least before 2030,” S&P Global Ratings said in a report released in November. “Energy transitions typically take decades.”

Path to 100% Perspective

Green hydrogen makes up less than 0.1% of the world’s 70 million-metric-ton annual hydrogen supply, according to the Green Hydrogen Coalition, a California-based nonprofit advocacy group. “Gray” hydrogen, produced from natural gas using high-temperature steam methane reforming, and “brown” hydrogen, made by gasifying coal, account for almost all hydrogen in use today. The chief customers are oil refineries, chemical plants and industrial manufacturers such as steel and cement makers. “Blue hydrogen,” a lower-carbon variant, also uses fossil fuels as a source but offsets emissions with carbon capture and storage. Blue and green hydrogen are not widely used at this time.

 

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The Green Hydrogen Revolution Is Now Underway

At-a-Glance:

While renewables are now the fastest growing energy industry, hydrogen is following closely behind in a massive gale. The 21st century will likely witness the rise of a mega-billion hydrogen fuel industry. Countries are taking initial steps to pursue green hydrogen as an energy solution and it is clearly becoming an innovative trend.  The Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) is tracking dozens of green hydrogen electrolyzer projects around the world with a theoretical combined capacity of 50 GW worth $75 billion. To learn more, read The Green Hydrogen Revolution Is Now Underway.”

Key Takeaways:

  • With the announcement of its 10-year $10.5 billion Green Hydrogen roadmap earlier this month, Spain joins a slew of other countries seeking to develop a zero-emission fuel for trucking, aviation, and shipping.
  • OPEC leader Saudi Arabia is building a green hydrogen facility,capable of producing 650 tons of green hydrogen fuel per day, in its cutting-edge futuristic city of Neom
  • Korea and Japan have both rolled out roadmaps to guide hydrogen-related investment and policy in coming years, including encouraging hydrogen fuel cell vehicle (HFVC) production. 
    • The Toyota Mirai is an HFCV unveiled in 2014 and has 10,300 worldwide sales since December 2019. 
    • Korea’s Hyundai is producing the hydrogen powered SUV Nexo.
  • China’s Hebei province approved $1.2 billion of projects for hydrogen equipment manufacturing, filling stations, fuel cells and hydrogen production, including electrolysis.
  • Perhaps the most ambitious project so far is the Asian Renewable Energy Hub based in Pilbara, Western Australia. The $16 billion initiative could see green hydrogen shipments as early as 2027.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Power-to-hydrogen is an alternate pathway to get to 100% clean energy. Hydrogen as a fuel is carbon free. However, there are costly investments involved with adding hydrogen to the mix because the infrastructure for this fuel still needs to be developed. Thermal power plants designed to burn methane typically cannot burn 100% hydrogen. Existing gas storage facilities, pipelines, compressor stations and distribution lines typically cannot handle 100% hydrogen without expensive upgrades, if not complete replacements.  Still, hydrogen is an efficient and carbon-free alternative to renewable synthetic hydrocarbons and is worth investigating. 

 

 

Photo: Levi Midnight on Unsplash