Can Biden Get a 100% Clean Energy Bill Through Congress?

At-a-Glance:

Now that President Joe Biden has assumed office, he can get to work on his pledge to move the nation to 100 percent clean energy. During the campaign, Biden advocated a 100 percent clean energy standard pegged to 2035. This builds on state-level renewable portfolio standards, which spurred tremendous growth in renewables by mandating that utilities buy or purchase a certain amount of clean power by certain deadlines. Biden wants to apply the concept nationally while front-loading investment in clean energy and technology to bring down costs. To learn more, read “Can Biden Get a 100% Clean Energy Bill Through Congress?”

Key Takeaways:

  • Biden’s 2035 clean energy timeline is more ambitious than those of states that have passed their own clean energy targets: Hawaii, California, and others chose 2045 deadlines. Nearly all major electric utilities have pledged to go carbon-neutral or zero out emissions by 2045 or 2050.
  • Transforming the nation’s electricity system in 15 years will require an unprecedented ramp-up of renewable construction and grid infrastructure investment, and likely some reliance on unproven emerging technologies.
  • Some climate policy advocates believe a clean energy standard could materialize through budget reconciliation. The most straightforward way to do this would be to create a clean energy credit trading system.
  • Alternatively, Congress could use reconciliation to set emissions targets or award block grants to states if they pass their own clean energy standard in line with federal guidance.
  • In the waning days of 2020, Congress pulled out a surprise bipartisan energy policy win, passing a spending and stimulus bill that extends clean energy tax credits and earmarked billions of dollars for advanced energy technology research.

Path to 100% Perspective:

The path to 100% may not look the same for every organization or government. A mix of policy, technology, and innovation will be required to achieve a 100% renewable energy system. Policy alignment between the states and federal government will help to accelerate decarbonization efforts and decrease confusion for utilities and citizens trying to decipher renewable energy solutions and the timelines attached to each goal.

 

 

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What the Biggest Corporate Energy Buyers Want from Federal Clean Energy Policy

At-a-Glance:

The Biden-Harris administration and the Democratic majority in Congress have an important backer in their quest to achieve an ambitious climate agenda: corporate America and its increasing hunger for carbon-free energy. On January 25, a notable subset of the largest U.S. corporations signed on to a statement from the Renewable Energy Buyers Association (REBA), laying out the top federal policy priorities that will help them meet their own aggressive decarbonization goals. To learn more, read What the Biggest Corporate Energy Buyers Want from Federal Clean Energy Policy.”

Key Takeaways:

  • Many of the signatories have already pledged to zero out their carbon footprints in the next decade or two, whether internally or across their supply chains. They’ve also been procuring and bankrolling clean energy at gigawatt scale.
  • The first federal policy priority is to improve the workings of the country’s wholesale energy market and expand similar markets to the rest of the country.
  • The second priority is to “harmonize and update” the largely state-by-state policy patchwork that governs clean energy procurement and sets values on the decarbonization potential of different technologies and investments.
  • The third priority centers on moving federal clean energy research and development to commercial application.
  • December 2020’s omnibus federal spending and coronavirus relief bill contains billions of dollars for these types of commercialization efforts, from core energy technologies to applications in manufacturing and construction.

Path to 100% Perspective:

U.S. corporations have been stepping up their commitment to lower or eliminate their carbon footprints for the last several years. Yet, they cannot pave the path to 100% alone. Federal support for clean energy has been significantly reduced in recent years, with federal energy initiatives primarily focused on the fossil fuel sector. The federal government can clear the way to a 100% renewable energy future by harmonizing state decarbonization policies, optimizing and expanding the renewable energy infrastructure, and investing in clean energy technology research and commercialization. Given the scale and depth of its energy market, the U.S. has the economic and technological potential to scale up renewable energy at an unprecedented rate.

 

 

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Shell Says Hydrogen Is Heavy Transport’s Future. What Now For Biofuels?

At-a-Glance:

Hydrogen will be the key energy source for global road freight, according to a new report commissioned by European oil major Shell. Electrification is the most economic and environmental solution for smaller delivery vehicles. The study, carried out by global accountancy firm Deloitte on Shell’s behalf, questioned 158 executives in the road freight sector in 22 different countries. To learn more, read Shell Says Hydrogen Is Heavy Transport’s Future. What Now For Biofuels?”

Key Takeaways:

  • Of those interviewed for the report, 70% ranked decarbonization as a top-three concern for their business and many said they expect hydrogen to be commercially viable in just five to 10 years.
  • Carlos Maurer, EVP of sectors and decarbonization at Shell, stated, “We believe that once produced at scale, hydrogen will likely be the most cost-effective and viable pathway to net-zero emissions for heavy-duty and long-route medium-duty vehicles, and electric mobility will do the same for light-duty and short-route medium-duty vehicles.”
  • Major truck manufacturers in Europe have accelerated the target date for their diesel engine phase-out from 2050 to 2040. Hydrogen and electrification are the low-carbon technology options of choice.
  • Biofuels are more likely to play their largest role in the short term when it comes to the transportation sector; however, there are other transport end markets where biofuels hold a strong advantage.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Decarbonizing the transportation sector will be a key step in realizing a 100% renewable energy future. Investments in hydrogen production, both in policies and infrastructure, will accelerate the timeline for commercial viability.

 

 

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The Texas Polar Vortex Resurrects the Decarbonized Grid’s Fuel Diversity Question

At-a-Glance:

This article is not about which generating technologies caused the blackouts experienced in Texas and states across the Midwest this week. However, these events can get us thinking about where the industry goes from here. First, the U.S. natural-gas supply network was stressed by record demand and prices. The record-high gas demand would have been even higher without the rolling blackouts that were imposed because more homes with central heat would have run either gas-fired heaters or electric heat pumps, which would have been powered mostly by coal- or gas-fired generators if those weren’t impacted by outages. To learn more, read The Texas Polar Vortex Resurrects the Decarbonized Grid’s Fuel Diversity Question.”

Key Takeaways:

  • The nine days between February 9 – 17 seem to highlight a fuel-diversity dilemma for U.S. decarbonization targets and policies. Coal and natural gas comprised 65% of the power generation mix, 30% and 35% respectively, while utility-scale wind and solar only provided 6%.
    • Many utility integrated resource plans seek to quickly replace coal plants with new, or existing but underutilized, natural-gas plants as “bridge fuel,” while adding large amounts of wind and solar over the next five to 20 years.
  • An increase in natural-gas usage during a repeat polar vortex event would likely lead to more grid reliability problems. There are two options to prevent this:
    • Expand U.S. natural gas supply/network to support even higher send-out for an extended cold snap.
    • Build enough renewable energy sources to offset the loss of coal generation and prevent increased natural gas demand during an extended cold snap.
  • Wood Mackenzie’s latest Long-Term Outlook forecasts the U.S. adding over 1,300 GW of new combined wind and solar capacity by 2050 to reach 85% decarbonization, plus over 400 GW of battery storage.
    • The system would still require some backup natural-gas generation for periods of low renewable energy output.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Power systems won’t decarbonize overnight. The pathway toward a 100% renewable power system will be a phased transformation, leveraging different mixes of technologies and fuels at different steps along the path. Power-to-gas technology is one approach that can ease the transition from fossil fuels to renewables, while providing a long-term energy storage solution that ensures a reliable and secure supply of electricity during periods of extreme weather.

 

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California’s Big 2021 Decision on Grid Reliability: Expand Supply or Manage Demand?

At-a-Glance:

California is facing a major decision under a tight deadline — whether it should push for large-scale power plants and batteries to prevent a repeat of its August 2020 rolling blackouts this coming summer or turn to behind-the-meter resources such as batteries and demand response. To learn more, read California’s Big 2021 Decision on Grid Reliability: Expand Supply or Manage Demand?” 

Key Takeaways:

  • The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) issued a ruling in late December asking the state’s three big investor-owned utilities to find ways to expand supply-side capacity before August 2021.
  • Demand-side solutions – behind-the-meter batteries, smart thermostats, and commercial and industrial demand response – may be a more realistic set of options to meet CPUC’s August 2021 deadline.
  • The joint California agency root-cause analysis into last summer’s grid emergency highlighted “demand response and flexibility” as the resources most likely to be able to be added by mid-2021.
  • Existing rules may be dampening the potential for capturing California’s nation-leading roster of behind-the-meter resources, which adds up to gigawatts’ worth of latent capacity.
  • Barriers aren’t stopping companies from enlisting new demand-response and behind-the-meter-battery customers in California. Oakland-based startup, OhmConnect raised $100 million in December 2020 from Google-affiliated Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners to build out 550 MW of residential load flexibility via smart thermostats and Wi-Fi-connected smart plugs.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Opening up greater demand-response flexibility in California will not only help prevent grid emergencies like those experienced during the rolling blackouts last summer; it will also help advance California’s efforts on the Path to 100% clean electricity. California should pursue an approach that includes adding new innovative demand response systems and more thermal generation flexibility.

 

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6 Out-of-the-Ordinary Energy Concepts From 2020

At-a-Glance

It’s been a “business-as-usual” year for renewables, despite the societal upheaval wrought by the coronavirus pandemic. Most 2020 headlines continue to highlight conventional renewable segments such as solar and energy storage. On the margins, virtual power plants have gone mainstream and green hydrogen has emerged as the energy carrier of choice for tomorrow’s fuel systems. But COVID-19 did little to dampen enthusiasm for more obscure energy concepts. To learn more, read “6 Out-of-the-Ordinary Energy Concepts From 2020.” 

Key Takeaways

  1. Filipino engineering student, Carvey Ehren Maigue has developed Aurora Renewable Energy and UV Sequestration or AuREUS, which uses vegetable-based panels as tinted films that can be applied to existing surfaces, such as walls and windows.
    • AuREUS’ ability to capture diffused ultraviolet rays is said to deliver a capacity factor of up to 50 percent, compared to a maximum of around 25 percent for photovoltaic (PV) solar energy.
  2. Salient Energy emerged from Shell’s GameChanger program with a zinc-ion battery chemistry believed to be cheaper, safer and longer-lasting than anything else on the market.
    • Salient claims its proprietary cathode materials store energy in zinc in a way that has never been commercialized before.
  3. Puerto Rican startup ReSynth specializes in “fuel enhancement” to reduce greenhouse gas concentrations from diesel and marine oils.
    • The fuel emulsion cuts sulfur and nitrous oxide emissions as well as carbon. Plus it has been approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy and the U.S. Coast Guard. It works with engines from major manufacturers such as Wärtsilä.
  4. Spanish firm Vortex Bladeless was founded in 2014, but 2020 was a year for notable milestones for the innovators. Vortex launched a small-scale product, less than three feet tall, to compete with low-power off-grid PV.
  5. The Ocean Grazer concept, based at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands has developed the Ocean Battery which stores energy by pumping fresh water into flexible bladders that are deflated by the pressure of the seawater column when power is needed.
  6. Alberta-based Eavor Technologies believes one of its Eavor-Loop systems can pull energy from the center of the earth to heat 16,000 homes or produce industrial-scale electricity via heat-to-power engines.

Path to 100% Perspective

The path to 100% has not already been paved, therefore, commitments to innovation and creativity are essential to developing solutions for different communities, regions and utilities. However, grid operators also navigate balance between obscure energy concepts and sustainability for power systems that energize communities around the world. The possibilities are endless as entrepreneurs and energy experts continue to collaborate towards flexibility and sustainability in order to reach a renewable energy future.

 

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Leveraging Coronavirus Stimulus to Take a Giant Leap Toward Decarbonization

At-a-Glance

While electricity demand has faltered during the global pandemic, the share of wind and solar generation has continued to increase. Wind and solar produced 10 percent of global electricity between January and June in 2020. In the European Union, renewables accounted for 33 percent of all power generation. According to the International Energy Agency, the EU’s renewable energy production was higher than its fossil fuel generation between February and early July of this year. The increased role of renewables has highlighted the investments necessary to make the transition to a 100 percent renewable power system faster and more economically efficient. To learn more, read “Leveraging Coronavirus Stimulus to Take a Giant Leap Toward Decarbonization.” 

Key Takeaways

  • While there are nuances depending on local circumstances, one significant takeaway is that the power system as a whole can handle a more rapid shift to renewables than grid operators have long assumed. 
    • “What we found was the energy system can cope really well with much more renewable power and that it’s possible to raise the ambitions around adding more clean energy,” said Sushil Purohit, president of Wärtsilä Energy.
  • Charting a more rapid and financially efficient transition to a 100 percent renewables future was a primary objective of Wärtsilä’s recent report, Aligning Stimulus With Energy Transformation, based on its Atlas modeling. 
    • The report demonstrates how using energy-related stimulus investments to support clean energy could speed decarbonization in five key countries: the U.S., the United Kingdom, Brazil, Germany and Australia.
  • According to the report, 54 percent of the $400 billion pledged has been targeted to benefit fossil-fuel-based energy, while 36 percent has been devoted to clean energy. 
    • In the U.S., more than 70 percent of the current $100 billion allocated for energy stimulus was pledged to fossil fuels, compared to less than 30 percent for clean energy.

Path to 100% Perspective

Beyond the issue of decarbonization, this is a missed opportunity to spark near-term job creation. According to a report by McKinsey & Company, every $10 million of government spending on renewables creates 75 jobs, while the same amount invested in fossil fuels creates 27 jobs. For the U.S., reallocating the $72 million of the COVID-19 energy stimulus currently earmarked for fossil fuels to clean energy would result in 544,000 new jobs, 175 percent more than would be produced in the traditional energy sector. In addition, these investments would result in 107 gigawatts of new renewable energy capacity and a 6.5 percent increase in renewable electricity generation, from 17.5 percent to 24 percent.