Deep Geothermal – One Renewable Energy Source to Rule Them All?

At-a-Glance

Deep geothermal technologies, such as the gyrotron, may be the key to harnessing the heat stored below the Earth’s crust to make abundant zero emissions energy. For more, read Deep Geothermal – One Renewable Energy Source to Rule Them All?

Key Takeaways

  • Gyrotrons, which produce high power beams, are currently used in fusion research. Paul Woskov, an MIT researcher, has posed the idea of using the technology to drill geothermal wells that can reach the Earth’s mantle.
  • MIT spinoff Quaise Energy received a grant from the Department of Energy to scale up Woskov’s lab experiments using a larger gyrotron. The goal is to vaporize a hole 100 times the depth of Woskov’s current experiments by sometime next year.
  • Quaise Energy plans to start harvesting energy from pilot geothermal wells that reach rock temperatures at up to 500°C by 2026. The team then hopes to begin repurposing coal and natural gas generating plants using its system.
  • Many of the skills developed over the past century by the oil and gas industry are readily transferable to deep geothermal, meaning that a ready-made, well-trained workforce is already available. Current fossil fuel infrastructure can be readily repurposed to rapidly advance geothermal energy.

Path to 100% Perspective

A variety of technologies will have a role to play along the Path to 100%. Deep geothermal is an emerging technology that can help ease the transition. What makes this technology exciting is that it’s compatible with existing thermal power plants, which can be converted to run on steam instead of coal and natural gas. Building conditions to enable investment in thermal balancing power plants is a key step to frontloading net zero and adding geothermal energy is one way to make this possible. There are many other renewable sources in use today that are the subject of scale-up research and expanded deployment, including ocean energy, bioenergy, and renewable synthetic fuels from Power-to-X (P2X). Ocean, biomass, and geothermal are not forecast to get to the scale that solar and wind could reach, but all are important. All of these technologies are part of the analysis and discussion around the transition to a 100% renewable energy future.

California’s Solar Problem Could Be Solved by Floating Wind Farms

At-a-Glance: 

In its quest to decarbonize its energy, California is heading offshore. Besides being green, tapping the winds over the Pacific Ocean offers an additional benefit: Good timing. For more read California’s Solar Problem Could Be Solved by Floating Wind Farms.

Key Takeaways:

  • While current solar capacity in California provides a deluge of power supply in the middle of the day, the peak demand for power is in the evening, when solar isn’t as reliable. This is especially troubling during extreme weather conditions.
  • Wind turbines off the coast capture steadier ocean winds than those on land, sometimes 50% more, and it usually peaks at night, making it a useful complement to solar power during the day and reducing the need to turn to gas-fired plants and battery storage
  • Matching supply more precisely with demand is an essential, but often overlooked, element of the energy transition. Traditional power supply relies on having dispatchable generators, usually burning fossil fuels, on call to match fluctuating demand. 

Path to 100% Perspective

California can reach its goal of serving 100% of retail load with renewable energy. However, this cannot be achieved with its current portfolio of resources. The rolling blackouts in summer 2020 show that California needs additional resources to supplement the tools already in place. More specifically, California needs new resources that complement the wind, solar, and hydro needed for a shift to a 100% renewable electricity system. Slow ramping, long start, baseload resources must be replaced by faster, more flexible resources that are capable of running on sustainable fuels. Sustainable fuels produced by excess wind and solar energy, plus storage resources, can enable California to cleanly and reliably shift energy from low-net loads to high-net loads.

US Renewable Power Set to Get More Than 20% Boost From New Climate Law

At-a-Glance: 

Accelerated by the Inflation Reduction Act, solar capacity will more than triple from 2021 to 2030 and battery storage will jump exponentially, predicts BNEF. For more, read US Renewable Power Set to Get More Than 20% Boost From New Climate Law.

Key Takeaways:

  • Enough solar power plants will be built from this year through 2030 to generate 364 gigawatts of electricity, BNEF estimates. That’s more than three times the capacity of all US solar plants in operation last year.
  • A gigawatt is roughly the output of a commercial nuclear reactor and, depending on the region, can power 750,000 homes. 
  • BNEF predicts147 gigawatts of new wind installations, many of them in coastal waters along New England, the Mid-Atlantic, and toward the end of the decade, California. 
  • The IRA also includes a new tax credit for large energy storage systems — typically, big packs of lithium-ion batteries — plugged into the power grid. BNEF forecasts 107 gigawatts of storage installations through 2030, up from just 5.7 gigawatts in use this year.

Path to 100% Perspective:

The passage of the IRA means there has never been a better time to make a long-term investment in U.S. decarbonization goals, but just investing in renewables is not enough. Solar and wind are variable, and will need a reliable backup to maintain the grid. As renewables become the new baseload, the need for flexible power generation and reliable storage solutions will be more important than ever.

In its Front-Loading Net Zero report released in 2020, Wärtsilä Energy outlined the benefits of investing now in predictable, low maintenance, renewable energy and storage technology.

“Flexibility creates the conditions where renewable energy is the most profitable way to power our grids: ensuring back-up power is available when there’s insufficient wind or solar,” according to the report. “Investing in renewable baseload is now viewed as buying ‘unlimited’ power up-front, as opposed to betting against fluctuating oil prices and narrowing environmental regulation.”

 

US wind, solar tripled over the past decade: analysis

At-a-Glance: 

The United States generated three times as much renewable electricity from the sun and wind last year in comparison to 2012, a new analysis has found. Seven states alone now produce enough electricity from these sources, as well as geothermal energy, to cover half of their consumption, according to an online energy dashboard. Read more in US wind, solar tripled over the past decade: analysis.

Key Takeaways:

  • Just five years earlier, none of the states mentioned— South Dakota, Iowa, North Dakota, Kansas, Wyoming, Oklahoma and New Mexico — had achieved this level of renewable energy progress.
  • Among the dashboard’s key findings was evidence that the U.S. produced enough wind energy to power 35 million typical homes in 2021 — or 2.7 times as much wind energy as in 2012. 
  • The U.S. also generated enough solar energy that year to power 15 million homes — or 15 times as much solar energy as in 2012, according to the dashboard. 
  • The dashboard found that the country now has nearly 4.7 gigawatts of battery storage, or 32 times as much as in 2012. This helps support the use of more renewable energy and keep the lights on during extreme weather events. 
  • California, Texas and Florida exhibited the most growth in solar power and battery storage from 2012 to 2021, while Texas, Oklahoma and Iowa ranked highest for wind power growth.

Path to 100% Perspective

The rise in renewables is a key step in the Path to 100%, and the numbers should continue to grow as the Inflation Reduction Act makes now a perfect time to invest in clean energy technology.

As mentioned in the article, the key to integrating renewable energy into the system is backup power– both thermal and storage. That’s because solar and wind are variable– you can’t always count on them to produce power at peak demand times.

Throwing Shade Is Solar Energy’s New Superpower

At-a-Glance: 

In America, solar power could be a new cash crop for farmers as the new innovation known as agrivoltaics grows. It is the process of farmers leasing land to solar farms and incorporating the panels as they plant crops or raise livestock. Read more in: Throwing Shade Is Solar Energy’s New Superpower.

Key Takeaways:

  • The Inflation Reduction Act includes billions of dollars in renewable energy funds that will accelerate the adoption of solar and other renewables. This will hasten the creation of large utility-scale arrays on existing cropland, perfect for its light winds, moderate temperatures and low humidity.
  • Farmers can lease their land for hundreds of dollars an acre, a much easier income than labor-intensive traditional farming. They can plant crops that thrive in shade or cool their cows under solar panels to double their income stream.
  • Critics worry that solar farms are unattractive and could change the character of rural communities, and that the panels could block access to the soil.
  • Despite positive advantages, agrivoltaics, at least on a large scale, remains a subject of research more than a method of doing business. It costs more to place solar panels high enough off the ground to allow for planting and livestock to fit underneath.

Path to 100% Perspective

In order to decarbonize, we must increase the usage of renewable energy sources like solar. Agrivoltaics could provide one solution to add more utility-size solar panels in more parts of the United States. More research is needed to determine how best to achieve this goal, but the premise is promising and if achieved, could hasten the Path to 100%.

 

Photo by Micha Sager on Unsplash

A “Supercharge” Of Renewable Energy Development Is Taking Place Around Us

At-a-Glance: 

Incentives in The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) will lower the cost of renewable energy in the U.S. dramatically over the next decade, according to analysis from the ICF Climate Center, a global consulting firm. They’ve deduced that the new US climate law will make clean energy projects easier to finance across the country, quickening the pace of the US energy transition.  For more read: A “Supercharge” Of Renewable Energy Development Is Taking Place Around Us.

Key Takeaways:

  • All of the technologies the authors of this report analyzed —  whether mature wind and solar or emerging battery, hydrogen, and carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) — would see double digit percentage declines. 
  • The IRA’s broad definition of energy storage for the ITC should help emerging alternatives to lithium ion batteries come to market, increasing the diversity of energy storage options, 
  • Hydrogen could see the biggest cost decline — a huge reduction anywhere from 52% to 67% — of any technology. Green hydrogen facilities that take advantage of the climate law’s tax credits could become cost-competitive with new natural-gas-powered facilities by 2030.
  • The authors assume within their projections that policymakers will address some sticky obstacles confronting clean energy projects, including “not in my backyard” (NIMBY) reactions and interconnection problems.

Path to 100% Perspective

A 100% renewable energy future in the United States is possible by 2050 if everyone works together, and the IRA definitely sets the stage for an influx of development. While increasing renewable energy sources, like wind and solar, the U.S. must also determine a plan to realistically phase out fossil fuel plants. Renewable sources can be intermittent, so battery technology will need to improve. Investing in technology like Wartsila’s flexible power plants, which can run on sustainable fuels like hydrogen, will also provide the dispatchability needed to ensure reliable power.

Historic $7B federal funding opportunity to jump-start America’s clean hydrogen economy

At-a-Glance: 

The U.S. Department of Energy is accepting applications for the $7 billion program to create regional clean hydrogen hubs (H2Hubs) across the country. The H2Hubs will be a central driver in helping communities across the country benefit from clean energy investments, good-paying jobs, and improved energy security. For more read: DOE Opens Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Funding Opportunity for Regional Clean Hydrogen Hubs and Releases Draft of DOE National Clean Hydrogen Strategy and Roadmap.

Key Takeaways:

  • Hydrogen is a versatile fuel that can be produced from clean, diverse, and domestic energy resources, including wind, solar, and nuclear energy, or by using methane while capturing resulting carbon to reduce emissions.
  • DOE also released a draft of the National Clean Hydrogen Strategy and Roadmap, which provides an overview of the potential for hydrogen production, transport, storage, and use in the United States and outlines how clean hydrogen can contribute to national decarbonization and economic development goals. 
  • For this initial funding opportunity launch, DOE is aiming to select six to ten hubs for a combined total of up to $7 billion in federal funding. 

Path to 100% Perspective

Renewable fuels, like hydrogen, will play a significant role in transitioning to a 100% renewable energy power system, especially as the market for these fuels continues to grow in the transportation and industrial sectors. Hydrogen-based sustainable fuels can be stored in large quantities and for extended periods at power plants for long periods of use, enabling clean capacity to be cost effectively scaled up according to the needs of grids.

 

 

How Clean Energy Kept California’s Lights On During A Historically Extreme Heat Wave

At-a-Glance: 

A two-week heat wave in California put the electric grid to an extreme test, but despite record demand the power stayed on, largely due to the fact that the state has gone all-in on clean energy technology like wind, solar, battery storage, and demand response. For more read: How Clean Energy Kept California’s Lights On During A Historically Extreme Heat Wave.

Key Takeaways:

  • Batteries played a critical role in keeping the grid running, and without them we would have experienced rolling blackouts. California has more than 3.2 GW of batteries supporting the grid, up from just 250 megawatts in 2020. These batteries typically provide four hours of energy, so that’s 150 times more energy from just two years ago. 
  • Customers also played a part, drastically reducing power usage after text alerts asked them to conserve power. This did help, but can’t be relied upon in every situation.
  • Renewable energy sources helped, too, but did need battery backup. Solar provided a consistent source of power during the day, but dropped off in the evening, when the demand increased. Wind did pick up in the evening. 
  • The state is racing to install more solar, wind, batteries, as well as transmission to connect all these new resources to the grid.

Path to 100% Perspective

It’s encouraging to hear that 10 states have already set decarbonization goals, but it isn’t enough. The Path to 100% will take support from everyone– from government and business leaders to private citizens. While the path isn’t the same everywhere, it includes some common steps, like increasing the use of renewables while incorporating storage and flexible power plants that can provide a source of energy backup when renewables like wind and solar are not enough. Without a plan to ensure firm, reliable power at all times, support of the energy transition could decrease.

 

 

NREL Study Identifies Opportunities & Challenges Of Achieving The U.S. Transformational Goal Of 100% Clean Electricity By 2035

At-a-Glance: 

A new report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) examines the types of clean energy technologies and the scale and pace of deployment needed to achieve 100% clean electricity, or a net-zero power grid, in the United States by 2035.

Key Takeaways:

  • Overall, NREL finds multiple pathways to 100% clean electricity by 2035 that would produce significant benefits, but the exact technology mix and costs will be determined by research and development (R&D), manufacturing, and infrastructure investment decisions over the next decade.
  • To achieve 100% clean electricity by 2035, new clean energy technologies will have to be deployed at an unprecedented scale. Modeling shows that wind and solar would need to supply 60% to 80% of generation. Getting there would require an additional 40–90 gigawatts of solar on the grid per year and 70–150 gigawatts of wind per year by the end of this decade – more than four times the current annual deployment levels for each technology.
  • Seasonal storage, like clean hydrogen-fueled combustion turbines, is important when clean electricity makes up about 80%–95% of generation. Achieving the needed amount of storage requires substantial development of infrastructure, including fuel storage, transportation and pipeline networks, and additional generation capacity needed to produce clean fuels.
  • Overall, NREL finds in all modeled scenarios that the health and climate benefits associated with fewer emissions exceed the power system costs to get to 100% clean electricity.

Path to 100% Perspective

Achieving ambitious decarbonization goals will require a reduction of reliance on fossil fuels and an increase in renewable energy. What will be critical to the transformation is a reliable source of energy when sources like wind or solar are not producing enough. The most economical long-duration storage is formed with green hydrogen-based sustainable fuels, such as hydrogen, ammonia, carbon neutral methanol and methane. These fuels can be used to generate electricity in flexible power plants. Such flexible power plants provide carbon neutral firm, dispatchable capacity to the grid at any time.

Sustainable fuels can be produced using a process called Power-to-Gas (PtG), which uses surplus solar and wind energy to produce renewable fuels, like synthetic methane and hydrogen. Hydrogen as a fuel is carbon-free and synthetic methane produced using carbon recycled from the air, is a carbon-neutral fuel.

 

1 In 3 Americans Live In State With 100% Clean Electricity Commitment

At-a-Glance: 

While only ten states in the United States have set 100% renewable energy goals, 1 out of every 3 Americans actually live in a state that has made some sort of clean electricity commitment. California accounts for the seemed disparity, since it’s home to so many people. Read more in 1 In 3 Americans Live In State With 100% Clean Electricity Commitment.

Key Takeaways:

  • Since it is home to 39.35 million people, 12% of the USA’s population of 329.5 million, California alone already puts us at 1 out of every 8 Americans.
  • These 10 states have made a clean energy commitment: California, Hawaii, New Mexico, Washington, Rhode Island, Maine, New York, Virginia, Oregon, and Illinois.
  • If you don’t live in a state with clean energy goals, Environment America writes, “Tell your governor to commit to 100% renewable.” Included at this link is a way to quickly and easily send a message to your governor pushing for a 100% renewable electricity commitment. 
  • in the private sector, a great source for encouraging and tracking commitments from companies around the world is RE100. RE100 reports that there are now 370+ companies that have 100% renewable commitments of some sort.

Path to 100% Perspective

It’s encouraging to hear that 10 states have already set decarbonization goals, but it isn’t enough. The Path to 100% will take support from everyone– from government and business leaders to private citizens. While the path isn’t the same everywhere, it includes some common steps, like increasing the use of renewables while incorporating storage and flexible power plants that can provide a source of energy backup when renewables like wind and solar are not enough. Without a plan to ensure firm, reliable power at all times, support of the energy transition could decrease.

 

 

DOE awarding $540 million to ramp up clean energy research

At-a-Glance: 

The United States Department of Energy (DOE) announced it will grant 54 universities and 11 national labs over $500 million to conduct research on clean energy technologies and low-carbon manufacturing, ranging from direct air capture to carbon storage and sequestration. The move comes on the heels of the passage of President Biden’s historic Inflation Reduction Act, which aims to significantly cut emissions by 2030. By 2050, Biden hopes to have a net-zero emissions economy. Read more in DOE awarding $540 million to ramp up clean energy research.

Key Takeaways:

  • “Meeting the Biden-Harris Administration’s ambitious climate and clean energy goals will require a game-changing commitment to clean energy — and that begins with researchers across the country,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm in a statement
  • Carbon dioxide emissions resulting from fossil fuel use are a significant driver of climate change.
  • A large portion of the money, $400 million, will go towards establishing and maintaining 43 Energy Frontier Research Centers, while these projects will study multiple topics including energy storage and quantum information science. 

Path to 100% Perspective

This is a great commitment by the U.S. federal government to influence positive change. While many of the tools for decarbonization already exist, there are problems to overcome like how to create long-term energy storage. There is promise in Power-to-X technology, a carbon-neutral solution that uses renewable energy to produce green hydrogen and other future fuels that can be used for affordable long-term storage. It is exciting to see the outcome of the vast research resources now committed to this effort.

 

 

 

Utilities are planning to shift to clean energy — just not too quickly

At-a-Glance: 

CEO of electricity research group EPRI says U.S. utilities are poised to go big on solar, wind and batteries — but they aren’t ready to give up their gas and coal plants just yet.

“You will also hear every one of [these utilities] saying that if we don’t take care of affordability and reliability, that will be the biggest obstacle to go to clean energy, because if customers get upset, it will have a negative impact on the clean energy transition.” said Arshad Mansoor, CEO of the Electric Power Research Institute. Read more in Utilities are planning to shift to clean energy — just not too quickly

Key Takeaways:

  • At EPRI’s Electrification 2022 conference, leading utilities unanimously embraced cutting carbon emissions and electrifying transportation. However, they urged caution at moving too quickly.
  • Most utilities know this is the decade to invest in wind, solar and battery storage. They have determined that grids can handle levels of renewable generation that were previously unthinkable — in fact, this is already happening in many states.
  • The COVID pandemic came at the worst time, causing major delays in the supply chain and slowing the construction of renewable resources.
  • Mansoor feels it may be necessary to keep some coal plants around as backup power sources to ensure a reliable power source, because wind and solar power is not always reliable and battery technology is not yet capable of long-term duration.
  • He says clean firm resources such as small modular nuclear reactors or clean hydrogen-burning turbines could eventually take that role, as could cheap long-duration energy storage, but they’re all still years away.

Path to 100% Perspective

The Path to 100% agrees that the way to a 100% clean energy future is through increased renewable energy sources like wind and solar power while maintaining a reliable backup system. To balance the intermittent nature of these renewable power sources, engine power plants and energy storage are ideal. While we are waiting for battery storage to improve, Wartsila’s flexible power plants are already generating reliable, backup power when solar and wind are not enough. They are capable of powering up and down quickly, unlike traditional coal-powered thermal power plants which could take hours to ramp up when energy is needed.