Solar Needs to Quadruple for U.S. to Have Carbon-Free Grid

At-a-Glance:

The U.S. would need to quadruple the amount of solar energy it installs by 2035 if it wants to achieve a goal of decarbonizing the nation’s power grid, the Energy Department said in a study released in September 2021. According to the study, solar energy has the potential to power 40% of the nation’s electricity and employ as many as 1.5 million people by 2035. To learn more, read, Solar Needs to Quadruple for U.S. to Have Carbon-Free Grid.” Reading this article may require a subscription from the media outlet.

Key Takeaways:

  • In 2020, the U.S. installed a record 15 gigawatts of solar power bringing the total to 76 gigawatts or 3% of the nation’s electricity supply.
  • The study, which was conducted by the agency’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), found that by 2035, the U.S. would need to provide 1,000 gigawatts of solar power to achieve a 95% emission-free grid.
    • Decarbonizing the grid would require as much as 3,000 gigawatts of solar by 2050, the study said.
  • The study comes as the President called for a 100% clean energy grid by 2035 and a 50% economy-wide reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 as part of an effort to combat climate change.

Path to 100% Perspective: 

It is the job of every power company to now put strategies and capital in place to navigate to net zero and to embed flexibility at the heart of grids to unlock 100% renewable energy systems. As the current population emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, governments can lay the foundations for a smoother transition to a decarbonized world. To achieve this, utilities must commit to front-loading their efforts and investment strategies. Not only will this unlock a wealth of new commercial opportunities in a transformed power market, but the future of the planet and it’s population depends on it.

Photo by American Public Power Association on Unsplash

ERCOT releases plan to boost reliability after blackouts, as report outlines gas, electric failures

At-a-Glance:

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas released a 60-point roadmap outlining how the grid operator plans to ensure the state’s power grid is more reliable, following the catastrophic blackouts last winter that almost shut down the region’s entire electric system. A report released by he University of Texas at Austin’s Energy Institute analyzes what went wrong,  finding the outages that plagued Texas last winter were caused by multiple failures across the gas and electric systems, including, in part, fuel shortages, outages at critical fuel facilities and non-weatherized power plants. To learn more, read “ERCOT releases plan to boost reliability after blackouts, as report outlines gas, electric failures.”

Key Takeaways:

  • The Texas legislature passed comprehensive legislation intended to overhaul the state’s power grid and strengthen reliability.
    • Two of the bills, signed into law, will require power companies to weatherize their power plants and transmission lines, and require ERCOT’s board to be appointed by state legislators.
  • UT’s report found the “failure” of the natural gas and electric system during the February winter storm “had no single cause.”
    • All generation technologies — gas, coal and nuclear plants, as well as solar and wind facilities — failed in some capacity as a result of the storm.
  • ERCOT’s most extreme winter scenario underestimated demand by about 9,600 MW, or 14%, the report found, while weather models inaccurately predicted the timing and severity of the storm.
  • Several generating units were not weatherized properly, the report found, in part leading to these issues.

Path to 100% Perspective: 

February’s arctic cold wave caused widespread blackouts in Texas because many power plants were not designed for extreme ambient temperatures, which caused them to become inoperable during the below freezing temperatures. Winterizing gas supply and power plants is required to avoid another blackout scenario. Although it is more expensive to winterize the gas supply and power plants, it is necessary to offer reliability. On the open electricity markets, plant investors struggle to see the point of winterizing for extreme conditions that may not happen. Indeed, it is going to be more expensive to engineer power plants to expand the temperature range down from 15 degrees fahrenheit to 0 degrees fahrenheit, but the critical need for power during these conditions would make the investment prudent.

Texas Nearly Went Dark Because Officials Misjudged Weather

At-a-Glance:

Texas came uncomfortably close to another round of rolling blackouts on the night of April 13 because grid operators misjudged the weather. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages most of the state’s grid, had counted on a mild cold front sweeping the state, lowering demand for power. It didn’t happen. As a result, demand on the grid was about 3,000 megawatts higher than anticipated. To learn more, read “Texas Nearly Went Dark Because Officials Misjudged Weather.” Reading this article may require a subscription from the news outlet.

Key Takeaways:

  • The forecasting error came as 25% of power generation was offline for seasonal repairs and served as a reminder of the vulnerability of Texas’s grid.
  • Texas has long taken a laissez-faire approach to its power grid, allowing market forces – rather than regulations – to ensure there’s enough power on hand to satisfy demand.
  • The market is designed to operate with thin reserve margins. Unless lawmakers intervene, weather will continue to beget volatility in the power grid.
  • The summer months will present another test for grid operators. Almost 75% of Texas is gripped by drought and more than 91% of the state is abnormally dry.

Path to 100% Perspective:

The latest close call in Texas shows there is an urgent need to adopt common-sense regulations that lead to grid reliability and ratepayer protection. While extreme weather was not to blame in this case, many believe climate change will make extreme and unpredictable weather more commonplace. There must be adequate, dispatchable power for unusual weather events, especially as global reliance on renewables continues to grow.

 

Photo by Jeremy Banks on Unsplash