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.

 

Photo: Nuno Marques on Unsplash

Top 10 U.S. corporate renewable energy buyers of 2020

At-a-Glance:

Amazon was the number one U.S. corporate buyer of renewable energy in 2020, procuring more than 3.16 GW. Utility-scale solar power also was the most sought-after renewable resource among the country’s major corporations. That’s according to the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance (REBA), a member-based organization that represents and advocates on behalf of many of the nation’s largest corporate energy purchasers. To learn more, read “Top 10 U.S. corporate renewable energy buyers of 2020.”

Key Takeaways:

  • REBA found that U.S. corporations once again showcased their resolve and commitment to renewable energy with a record-breaking 10.6 GW of contracted capacity.
  • REBA’s group members accounted for 97% of the procurements tracked in 2020. Of the 98 deals reflected in the full report, 72% were for utility-scale solar projects.
  • Amazon is on a path to run on 100% renewable energy by 2025, five years ahead of its original target of 2030.
  • REBA reported that 2020 was the first year that multiple U.S. corporate energy buyers announced procurements including battery storage, aligning with broader industry trends as storage technology becomes more accessible.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Corporate renewable energy trailblazers such as Amazon are reaching and exceeding their clean energy goals. Achieving a zero-carbon power sector will require leveraging a mix of technologies and fuels at different steps along the path to 100%. Investment in innovation is proving that reaching renewable energy goals is possible, practical and affordable.

 

Photo: Christian Wiediger on Unsplash

Xcel cuts carbon emissions 50% by 2021, eyes Colorado transmission, coal plants to reach 2030 goal

At-a-Glance:

Xcel Energy estimates that it has reduced carbon emissions 50% below 2005 levels in 2020, and is on track to meet its 2030 target of reducing carbon emissions 80% in the next decade, based on its upcoming integrated resource plans (IRPs). To learn more, read “Xcel cuts carbon emissions 50% by 2021, eyes Colorado transmission, coal plants to reach 2030 goal.”

 Key Takeaways:

  • Xcel completed six wind projects in 2020, representing nearly 1,500 MW of capacity. Another 800 MW of wind projects are under construction and expected to become operational in 2021.
  • Xcel plans to file solar plans with Minnesota regulators later this year, which would have the utility develop 460 MW of solar near its Sherco coal plant – retiring in 2030 – to take advantage of existing transmission near the plant.
  • Although specifics are not available regarding Xcel’s upcoming Colorado IRP, the plan will include transmission expansion to bring additional load from remote-located renewables into the Denver area.
  • Xcel will also propose a plan for its remaining Colorado coal plants, as well as adding more renewables, to put the utility on track to reduce its carbon footprint 80% by 2030.
  • Xcel plans to exit coal entirely in Minnesota by 2030.
  • Xcel executives will continue to be bullish on electric vehicle infrastructure build outs, investing $500 million in charging stations and distribution system infrastructure over the next five years, and closer to $1.5 – 2 billion over the next decade.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Xcel is paving the path to 100% for those in the energy sector, setting and meeting ambitious carbon reduction goals and building out its renewable energy capacity. Leveraging existing infrastructure while making key investments in solar and wind will help ease the transition to 100% carbon-free energy and serve as an example to others looking to do the same.

 

 

Photo by natsuki on Unsplash

The POWER Interview: The Importance of AI and Machine Learning

At-a-Glance:

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are becoming synonymous with the operation of power generation facilities. The increased digitization of power plants, from equipment to software, involves both thermal generation and renewable energy installations. To learn more, read “The POWER Interview: The Importance of AI and Machine Learning.”

Key Takeaways:

  • AI and ML will be key elements for the design of future energy systems, supporting the growth of smart grids and improving the efficiency of power generation, along with the interaction among electricity customers and utilities.
  • Centralized power systems enable equal access to clean power at the lowest cost, reducing economic inequality. Regardless of whether the path forward is more or less centralized, AI brings value to all parties.
  • “AI is very important to smart grids,” Wärtsilä General Manager of Data Science, Energy Storage & Optimization, Luke Witmer said. “AI is extremely important to the integration of smart charging of electric vehicles, and leveraging those mobile batteries for grid services when they are plugged into the grid.”
  • The more AI is used in the dispatch of power plants, the more it will be needed in the design and creation process for new power plants or aggregations of power generation equipment.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Wärtsilä uses AI and equipment expertise to enhance the safety, reliability, and efficiency of power equipment and systems. AI and machine learning will play increasingly important roles in future power generation, especially as more communities and organizations come to rely on smart grids and renewable fuels for their electricity needs.

 

Photo by Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash

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.

 

 

Photo by Sungrow EMEA on Unsplash

Amazon Tops The 2020 List Of Corporate Renewable Energy Buyers

At-a-Glance:

Just which companies are the biggest buyers of green energy? In 2020, it was Amazon, which bypassed Google and Facebook. These companies were followed by French oil giant Total, the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, and U.S. telecom Verizon. To learn more, read “Amazon Tops The 2020 List Of Corporate Renewable Energy Buyers.” Reading this article may require a subscription. 

Key Takeaways:

  • In its 2021 Corporate Energy Outlook, BloombergNEF reported that more than 130 companies in sectors ranging from oil and gas to big tech have inked clean energy deals and purchased 23.7 gigawatts of clean energy.
  • Amazon entered into 35 power purchase agreements in 2020 and has purchased 7.5 gigawatts of clean energy to date.
  • Sixty-five companies joined the RE100 in 2020, pledging to offset 100% of their electricity consumption with clean energy; there are 280 companies in all.
  • Forty-eight percent of Fortune 500 and 63% of Fortune 100 companies are promising to cut their greenhouse gases and increase their use of renewable energy or improve their energy efficiencies.

Path to 100% Perspective:

More corporations are realizing the benefits of investing in clean energy to expand responsibility, reliability, and flexibility. These companies are setting an ambitious example for others to follow as the path to 100% is seen as possible, practical, and financially feasible. Access to  clean energy resources on a global scale is making it easier for companies to set and work toward clean energy targets.

 

Photo by Abby Anaday on Unsplash.

Hydrogen advocates look to capitalize on California’s goal to replace diesel for back-up generation

At-a-Glance:

California regulators are on the lookout for cleaner alternatives to replace the widespread use of back-up diesel generation – particularly among data centers in Silicon Valley and other areas of the state – and some industry players think hydrogen could be the answer. To learn more, read “Hydrogen advocates look to capitalize on California’s goal to replace diesel for back-up generation.”

Key Takeaways:

  • Hydrogen fuel cells are advantageous for several reasons: they occupy less space than batteries, possess long-term storage capability, are quiet, reliable, and 100% zero-emission.
  • The key draw of hydrogen is its cost effectiveness at longer durations.
    • For a completely resilient, 100% renewable data center with zero emissions, using hydrogen would translate to a levelized cost of electricity amounting to $119 per MWh.
    • Batteries would lead to over $4,000 per MWh levelized cost to ensure 48 hours of backup power.
  • Taking a step back from the issue of replacing diesel back-up generators, environmental advocates are urging the state to prioritize the adoption of renewable, zero emissions technologies.
  • Ben Schwartz, policy manager at Clean Coalition, said California could adopt policies to promote the efficiency of solar and storage alternatives to diesel generation.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Renewable fuels, such as hydrogen, can help utilities overcome the variability challenges posed by seasonal conditions and extreme weather. One approach that can be leveraged in the transition to a 100% renewable energy system is power-to-gas (PtG). PtG technology uses excess energy from wind and solar to produce synthetic hydrogen and methane. The combination of stored fuel potential and thermal capacity yields a long-term energy storage system that acts like a gigantic distributed “battery.” Coupled with traditional, shorter-term storage technologies, this system can help meet seasonal energy demands when renewables are variable, and provide a reliable and secure supply of electricity during periods of extreme weather.

 

Photo by Clayton Cardinalli on Unsplash

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.

 

 

Photo by Science in HD on Unsplash

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.

 

Photo Jerry Wang on Unsplash

Without Carbon Capture And Storage, The World Can’t Meet Its Climate Target

At-a-Glance:

When the global community was focused on the U.S. presidential election last fall, a huge story was developing in Norway: Its parliament was preparing to finance “the greatest” carbon capture project in the world that would cut emissions and jumpstart the technology. It would first be implemented at a cement factory. It is the type of thinking that Prince Charles of Wales said is critical if the international community is to meet its obligations under the Paris climate agreement and to keep temperatures in check. To learn more, read “Without Carbon Capture And Storage, The World Can’t Meet Its Climate Target.” Reading this article may require a subscription. 

Key Takeaways:

  • Prince Charles specifically endorsed Net Power, which is working with Toshiba Corporation to burn natural gas in oxygen to create pure CO2 – much of which is captured, heated and used to create electricity. The remaining CO2 is captured and either sequestered underground or used to enhance oil recovery.
  • Carbon capture and sequestration is feasible, but expensive. However, a tax credit is now given to coal, natural gas and oil companies that can capture or reuse their CO2 releases. Known as Q45, it gives a credit of $50 per ton for CO2 that is buried and $35 per ton for CO2 that is re-utilized.
  • Exxon Mobil Corp. wants to catapult the concept further by using carbonated fuel cells that concentrate and capture the CO2 from power plants, while substantially reducing costs. 
  • Net Power’s Bill Brown says that instead of choosing specific fuels, the United States needs to choose a future – one that is set on becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Free-market forces are pushing companies, large and small, to address climate change. The innovative technologies being developed and deployed by companies like Net Power, Exxon, and Norway’s Gassnova will go a long way to make carbon capture and storage both affordable and accessible for the entire world. While much more will need to be accomplished before achieving a 100% renewable energy future, these efforts are charting a productive course to meet the Paris climate agreement’s goal of net-zero carbon releases by 2050.

 

 

Photo by Matteo Catanese on Unsplash

The 10 Ways Renewable Energy’s Boom Year Will Shape 2021

At-a-Glance:

With the uncertainty of 2020 behind us, the new year kicked off with surging growth for renewable energy. Growth will likely continue into 2021, fueled in part by last year’s major turning points. Some analysts have started predicting that the U.S. power sector is approaching peak natural gas. That would leave room for solar-panel installations to build on the ongoing boom. To learn more, read The 10 Ways Renewable Energy’s Boom Year Will Shape 2021.” Reading this article may require a subscription. 

Key Takeaways:

  • Although U.S. residential solar installations dropped nearly 20% in the second quarter of 2020 from the first, by the end of the year, the sector bounced back and the country added 19 gigawatts of total solar power.
  • New battery capacity in the U.S. more than doubled in the third quarter of 2020 from the second, according to Wood Mackenzie and the U.S. Energy Storage Association. Projects in California were a key reason for the surge.
  • Electricity from Spain’s solar farms was up over 60% in 2020 compared to 2019, generating over 15,000 gigawatt hours of power, according to data from the country’s grid manager Red Electrica.
  • Renewable power beat out fossil fuels in the European Union for the first time, with approximately 40% of electricity in the first half of 2020 coming from renewable sources compared with 34% from plants burning fossil fuels.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Despite the upheaval caused by COVID-19 in 2020, the demand for renewable energy has not slowed and the path to 100% is becoming clearer as countries around the world commit to carbon-free sources of electricity. Developments such as China’s commitment to reaching carbon neutrality by 2060 and the European Union’s shift to renewables as the dominant power source provide further evidence that the tide is turning toward decarbonization. Ambitious goals, a commitment to research and development, and ongoing collaboration will continue to pave the path to a renewable energy future.

 

Photo by Jason Ng on Unsplash

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.

 

 

Photo by Matthew Hamilton on Unsplash