300 companies chart path for CO2-free energy technology

At-a-Glance:

More than a decade ago, a host of U.S. companies capitalized on voluntary energy purchases to help drive down wind and solar energy costs, revealing the financial strength of the nation’s power sector to spur the nation’s access to clean energy. Now, those same companies are being asked to once again give similar treatment to much-needed next-generation clean energy technologies. An alliance of nearly 300 major corporations, whose members also include Microsoft Corp., Walmart Inc., Amazon.com Inc. and General Motors Co., is seeking to channel financial support to clean energy options such as long-term batteries, geothermal energy, hydrogen fuels, hydropower installations on existing dams, CO2 capture from gas-fired power plants and new nuclear reactor projects to help jump-start these technologies. To learn more read, “300 companies chart path for CO2-free energy technology.”

Key Takeaways:

  • According to studies by Princeton researchers and other analysts, a huge ramp-up in wind and solar power and infrastructure in this decade could bring the share of clean power in the U.S. to roughly 70 percent. 
  • Over the past 15 years, business and industry have been catalysts for the addition of over 42,000 megawatts of new renewable power in the U.S., and so far this year they have been responsible for 40 percent of new renewables additions.
  • Google has also signed purchasing contracts with startup Fervo Energy, which is adapting oil and gas fracking methods to the production of geothermal energy to generate power 
  • A study which used a complex electricity planning model from Princeton and Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers, assessed the effect on carbon emissions in California and the PJM Interconnection grid of switching to an around-the-clock clean energy procurement rather than contracts for annual totals. 

Path to 100% Perspective: 

The alliance of companies seeking to capitalize on voluntary energy purchases is accelerating decarbonization by identifying the fastest, most reliable and  most cost-effective ways to reach net-zero energy across cities, states, and nations. Over the past 20 years, the cost per kilowatt of wind power plants has decreased by 40%, while the cost of solar generation has dropped by 90%. Renewable generation is attracting more investment dollars than fossil-powered generation year after year. Current market trends show the energy landscape is in transition towards more flexible energy systems with a rapidly increasing share of renewable energy, declining inflexible baseload generation and wider applications of storage technology.

 

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DOE eyes AI, machine learning to accelerate long-duration energy storage research

At-a-Glance:

A proposed federal research program to accelerate research into the durability and performance of long-duration energy storage is a critical step to meeting the Biden administration’s decarbonization goals, speakers said Thursday at a Department of Energy (DOE) panel. DOE officials said long-duration energy storage technology must be commercially ready, at scale, by 2030, in order to increase the share of renewables on the grid and meet the administration’s 100% clean electricity by 2035 goal. To learn more, read, DOE eyes AI, machine learning to accelerate long-duration energy storage research.”

Key Takeaways:

  • In July, DOE announced a moonshot goal to reduce the cost of utility-scale, long-duration storage by 90% within a decade, backed by federal research, large-scale demonstrations and domestic manufacturing incentives
  • Deputy Energy Secretary David Turk said bringing long-duration storage to the grid wouldn’t just make it possible to rely on more renewable energy, but also “increase resilience and lower energy burdens” for vulnerable communities.
  • Although there have been technical breakthroughs on long-duration technologies — notably Form Energy’s July announcement of a 100-hour iron-air battery — experts have cautioned about the limited window to test batteries in the real world.
    • ROVI, the proposed initiative from DOE’s national labs, seeks to close that information gap by using machine learning and artificial intelligence to model performance of different long-duration storage technologies, including predicting how the technology will lose performance or hold up physically over time.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (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. 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. AI and equipment expertise are needed 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.

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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.

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Rich in renewable energy, Chile seeks to become global hydrogen powerhouse

At-a-Glance:

As a net importer of fuels, Chile has not been a significant player in global energy markets. But the sun-drenched, wind-rich South American country aims to become a titan in the burgeoning green hydrogen economy, setting a goal to become one of the world’s top three exporters by 2040. The hydrogen economy is still taking shape, and the world is waiting for the costs of the technology to fall. Multinational companies are taking up the offer, looking to use Chile’s rich renewable energy resources to make breakthroughs in green hydrogen and take advantage of potential government subsidies. To learn more, read, “Rich in renewable energy, Chile seeks to become global hydrogen powerhouse.”

Key Takeaways:

  • Chilean President Sebastian Piñera’s outgoing administration launched its National Green Hydrogen Strategy in November 2020.
    • The goal is to have 5 GW of electrolysis capacity under development by 2025 and to create the cheapest green hydrogen on the planet by 2030.
  • Mining companies in the region are looking to hydrogen to slash operational costs by eliminating the expensive importation of diesel fuel.
    • They also believe green hydrogen can be used for electricity at mining sites alongside cheap renewable energy resources.
  • Beyond mining, companies are using Chile as a testing ground to create both ammonia and synthetic fuels from green hydrogen.
  • Roughly half of Chile’s installed power generation capacity for 2021 was sourced with renewable energy resources, making the production of green hydrogen easier.
  • Operators of coal-fired plants in the country, including international firms AES Corp., Enel SpA and Engie SA, have announced plans in 2021 to shut down such facilities and increase investments in renewables.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Chile has one of the most ambitious decarbonization plans in the world, targeting carbon neutral electricity in 2050. This South American country is already at a 70% renewable energy share with some of the world´s best wind and solar resources available. It is possible to retire coal in Chile before 2030 and to reach a 100% carbon neutral power system before 2050. Although competitive renewable energy and battery storage are available, the missing piece of the puzzle is long-term energy storage, which has the role of ensuring proper system function and reliability even during longer usual weather patterns such as drought, extreme heat or cold waves, cloud cover and rain, low wind periods as well as low solar seasons such as winter. Utilizing the Power-to-Fuel-to-Power as the long term energy storage can save Chile an estimated 17 billion dollars or 26% in investments and enables lower generation costs with better system reliability.

 

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WRI lays out options for large energy users to decarbonize beyond renewables procurement

At-a-Glance:

Large energy buyers should take a leading role in accelerating the carbon-free grid transition by expanding their approaches to clean energy procurement practices, the World Resources Institute (WRI) wrote in a recently published report. Pursuing transmission buildout to increase access of clean energy, incorporating demand flexibility in procurement practices and getting more granular data on grid emissions, such as hourly matching, are some of the innovative approaches that cities and corporations with decarbonization goals have already taken to explore market products and opportunities across the grids they operate on, according to the WRI report. To learn more, read, “WRI lays out options for large energy users to decarbonize beyond renewables procurement.”

Key Takeaways:

  • WRI highlighted the efforts of Google; Microsoft; Apple; Des Moines, Iowa; Sacramento, California, and other large energy buyers to use different procurement practices with a focus on firm resources, reducing near-term emissions reductions, or enabling battery storage and carbon capture.
  • Michael Terrell, who chairs the board of the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance, said that 80% of the renewable energy deals in the U.S. occur in deregulated wholesale markets.
  • Des Moines, which WRI reported as the first U.S. city to commit to a 24/7 carbon-free electricity target by 2035, sought allies in other customers of MidAmerican Energy, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway.
    • Des Moines’ progress and approach is upheld as an example in the recent WRI study.

Path to 100% Perspective: 

State, provincial, municipal and in some cases national governments are declaring mandatory targets for 100% clean power. These regulatory targets are often considered renewable mandates as it is commonly understood that wind, solar, hydro and other renewable energy sources are needed to replace fossil-fuel power plants in a zero-carbon emissions future. In most cases, the metrics that define “100%” compliance are often decoupled from strict renewable requirements, quantified using metrics such as carbon intensity (e.g., 0 g/kWh of CO2 emissions), thus potentially allowing for nuclear and combustion of biofuels and synthetic renewable fuels to meet the goals. The terms 100% renewable, 100% carbon-free and 100% carbon-neutral are often used interchangeably.

 

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EIA: Renewables will make up 23% of U.S. electric power generation next year

At-a-Glance:

Electric power generated from renewable energy sources in the U.S. will rise to nearly 23% in 2022, according to short-term guidance released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Renewables – including wind, hydroelectric, solar, biomass, and geothermal energy – became the second-most prevalent U.S. electricity source in ­­2020, trailing only natural gas. New additions of solar and wind generating capacity in 2021 were offset by reduced generation from hydropower in 2020, according to EIA, keeping the renewable share of electricity generation flat from 2020 to 2021. To learn more, read, “EIA: Renewables will make up 23% of U.S. electric power generation next year.”

Key Takeaways:

Findings from EIA’s August short-term outlook:

  • Estimate +14.7 GW of new wind capacity in 2020, +17.6 GW in 2021, and +6.3 GW in 2022
  • Estimate +10.6 GW utility-scale solar in 2020, +16.2 GW in 2021, and +16.6 GW in 2022
  • Estimate +10 GW small-scale solar capacity from 2021-2022
  • Expect significant solar capacity increases in Texas

Path to 100% Perspective:  Electric utilities and governments across the world are moving towards 100% carbon-free energy. To succeed, they need to not only increase renewable generation, but also to rapidly reduce the use of fossil fuels. Renewables and storage alone cannot rapidly decarbonize our power system fast enough. Optimizing power resources, renewable energy and future fuels is the way to pave the Path to 100%.  Electricity generation in the United States was responsible for approximately 30% of CO2 generation in 2017. As other industrial sectors decarbonize they will become more reliant on utility infrastructure to supply carbon-free or carbon-neutral energy, in effect increasing utility load.

 

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Renewables generated a record amount of electricity in 2020, EIA says

At-a-Glance:

In 2020, renewable energy sources (including solar, wind, hydroelectric, biomass, and geothermal energy) generated a record 834 billion kWh of electricity, or about 21% of all the electricity generated in the United States. Only natural gas (1,617 billion kWh) produced more electricity than renewables in the United States in 2020, according to the Energy Department’s Energy Information Administration (EIA). To learn more, read “Renewables generated a record amount of electricity in 2020, EIA says.”

Key Takeaways:

  • Renewables surpassed both nuclear (790 billion kWh) and coal (774 billion kWh) for the first time. EIA said this outcome was due mostly to “significantly less coal use” in U.S. electricity generation and steadily increased use of solar and wind.
  • U.S. electricity generation from coal in all sectors declined 20% from 2019, while renewables, including small-scale solar, increased 9%.
  • Wind, currently the most prevalent source of renewable electricity in the United States, grew 14% in 2020 from 2019.
  • Utility-scale solar generation (from projects greater than 1 MW) increased 26%, and small-scale solar, such as grid-connected rooftop solar panels, increased 19%.
  • Renewables are again forecast to eclipse coal in 2022 as capacity grows and coal’s cost advantage eases.

Path to 100% Perspective: 

Investing in renewable baseload is now viewed as buying ‘unlimited’ power upfront, as opposed to betting against fluctuating oil prices and narrowing environmental regulation. The early leaders of the renewable transition are now outperforming their counterparts in the fossil fuel sector. New capex is now surging in the power sector, driving the build-out of renewables at an unprecedented rate in areas of the world, such as Chile and New Mexico, that yield the highest renewable power capacity factors. Faced with the magnitude of the transition, some power producers have stopped investing – stopped progressing. Some are waiting to see if renewable technology costs fall even further as the sector transforms in front of their eyes. However, power producers that stall their investments risk being left with portfolios that rely on legacy technologies, which can only provide diminishing returns, while the low hanging fruit for solar and wind parks is progressively being capitalized by the first movers. Delaying the transition to renewables will reduce the competitiveness of power producers, as well as putting national climate targets out of reach. 

 

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Big Oil Companies Push Hydrogen as Green Alternative, but Obstacles Remain

At-a-Glance:

Big oil companies have long touted hydrogen energy as a way to reduce carbon emissions. Now they are grappling with how to make that a reality. BP, Royal Dutch Shell and TotalEnergies SE are all pursuing multimillion-dollar hydrogen projects, often with government support, as they seek to redefine their future role in a world less reliant on fossil fuels. Hydrogen made using renewable energy can be produced and used without emitting carbon dioxide. The challenge is to make it using renewable power instead and produce it on an industrial scale, in the hope of bringing down costs. To learn more, read “Big Oil Companies Push Hydrogen as Green Alternative, but Obstacles Remain.” Reading these articles may require a subscription from the media outlets.

Key Takeaways:

  • Oil companies are pursuing green hydrogen, which they see as a longer-term goal, while also looking at applying carbon-capture technology to fossil-fuel-based hydrogen production as a way to clean up the gas in the interim.
  • As of the end of June, there were 244 large-scale green hydrogen projects planned, according to the Hydrogen Council, an industry group, up more than 50% since the end of January. It estimates tens of billions of dollars have already been earmarked for hydrogen projects.
  • In the U.S., the Energy Department has said it aims to reduce the cost of green hydrogen by 80% to $1 per kilogram in the next decade, in part by supporting pilot projects.

Path to 100% Perspective:

U.S. renewable energy adoption continues to rise. In 2019, renewable energy sources accounted for 17.5% of total utility-scale electricity generation, with renewable energy generation reaching 720 TWh. However, allocation of current energy stimulus, $100 billion USD, is tied to the fossil fuel sector, which limits the potential for decarbonization. More than 70% of energy stimulus funding in the U.S. is currently allocated to legacy fossil fuels, compared to less than 30% to clean energy. Large oil companies are maximizing government support to make the energy transition, but a larger federal investment in clean energy instead of fossil fuels could accelerate the decarbonization process. 

 

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Omaha Public Power securing Wartsila’s gas-fired engines to balance solar PV

At-a-Glance:

Omaha Public Power District, a municipal power provider in Nebraska, has contracted Wärtsilä to supply natural gas-fired engines for a grid balancing plant. The 156-MW multi-fuel engine power plant will be part of the municipal utility’s Power with Purpose project. Power with Purpose will incorporate up to 600 MW of solar photovoltaic generation, supported by fast-starting internal combustion engines to ensure system stability. To learn more, read “Omaha Public Power securing Wartsila’s gas-fired engines to balance solar PV.”

Key Takeaways:

  • Wärtsilä will supply nine of its 18-cylinder 50DF engines operating on natural gas and light fuel oil as needed.
  • Wärtsilä’s multi-fuel engine technology provides fuel resiliency with engines capable of burning natural gas, light fuel oil, and even hydrogen blends (up to 25 percent H2 currently and being adapted eventually for 100 percent carbon-free hydrogen).
  • The new Standing Bear Lake Station plant will be located in Douglas County, Neb. and is expected to be put into commercial operation by May 2023.
  • Omaha Public Power District’s goal to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 includes the addition of variable, renewable energy resources balanced by the use of Wärtsilä technology to provide reliability and resiliency.

Path to 100% Perspective: 

Electric utilities and governments across the world are moving towards 100% carbon-free energy. To succeed, they need to not only increase renewable generation, but also to rapidly reduce the use of fossil fuels. Renewables and storage alone cannot rapidly decarbonize our power system fast enough. Optimizing power resources, renewable energy and flexible fuels is the way to pave the Path to 100%.  

Wärtsilä & Schneider Electric develop power system reference design for lithium mines lacking grid access

At-a-Glance:

Technology group Wärtsilä and Schneider Electric say they have together developed a “unique, end-to-end power system reference design.” It is aimed specifically at lithium mine operations where there is no access to a grid supply of electricity. To learn more, read “Wärtsilä & Schneider Electric develop power system reference design for lithium mines lacking grid access.” 

Key Takeaways:

  • Wärtsilä and Schneider Electric signed the framework cooperation agreement for the development of the design for mining energy solutions in March 2020.
  • Their design provides for an economically viable total expenditure that covers the complete process, including consulting, project design, the power infrastructure, equipment delivery, installation and commissioning.
  • Their solution contributes to sustainable lithium production by optimising the efficient delivery and use of energy, and by leveraging microgrids and enabling renewable energy sources.
  • The overall objective of this collaborative development is to provide high efficiency power solutions with a minimal environmental footprint for the mining industry.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Increasing global demand for lithium that is used in battery storage applications is putting pressure on mining operations to be as efficient and cost-effective as possible. How mines source and use power is a key element in this process. By using microgrids and renewable energy sources to meet their power needs, mine operators will reduce environmental impact and take the necessary steps toward decarbonization.

The Places Paving The Way to 100 Percent Renewable Energy

At-a-Glance:

Shortly before Darren Springer interviewed for a job at the Burlington Electric Department (BED) in 2016, the city proudly proclaimed that it would become a ‘net zero energy city’ by 2030. That meant no more gas or oil to heat residents’ homes and swapping out gas-powered cars for electric vehicles and more public transportation. To learn more, read “The Places Paving The Way to 100 Percent Renewable Energy.”

Key Takeaways:

  • As of September 2020, 452 cities and 22 regions had made commitments to slash and offset their planet-heating carbon dioxide emissions, reaching net-zero CO2 pollution by the middle of the century.
  • Burlington, Vermont has been running on renewable electricity since 2014. Over 70% of their electricity comes from burning wood and hydropower, both of which generate a constant flow of energy, which is more compatible with the existing grid.
  • Burlington’s focus on offering incentives, engaging its citizens, and assuming control of the utility have all enabled its transition to running on renewable energy.
  • Beyond Burlington, the nonprofit, indigenous-led Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation is developing what it calls a “net-zero energy” community for members of the Oglala Lakota Nation on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.
  • The goal is for the 34-acre development’s power to come completely from renewable energy.

Path to 100% Perspective:

There’s not a one-size-fits-all approach on the path to 100% renewable energy. Places like Burlington are setting an example by investing in a mix of renewable energy sources and making strides in their decarbonization goals. The U.S. could achieve a zero-emission electricity system by 2035 by investing $1.7 trillion into wind and solar, plus energy storage and flexible generation to balance system intermittence and volatility. Accelerating decarbonization is complex, but it is possible and affordable.

 

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Oil Majors Look to Fill Businesses’ Growing Appetite for Green Power

At-a-Glance:

Businesses are buying more renewable power, and oil majors want a piece of the action. European oil companies including BP PLC and Royal Dutch Shell PLC are building new wind and solar projects and striking deals to supply electricity to big corporate buyers like Amazon.com Inc. and Microsoft Corp., treading into the domain of traditional power companies. To learn more, read Oil Majors Look to Fill Businesses’ Growing Appetite for Green Power.” Reading this article may require a subscription from the news outlet.

Key Takeaways:

  • Oil companies say securing long-term deals to supply electricity will provide a new source of income and underpin their expansion into wind and solar power as they seek to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels and prepare for a lower-carbon economy.
  • Corporate power-purchase agreements are an area of focus for BP’s solar-power joint venture Lightsource BP, which this year signed deals to supply Amazon, Verizon Communications Inc. and a unit of insurer Allianz SE.
  • New deals continue to be struck at a rapid pace, rising 75% in the first four months of the year versus the same period a year ago, the BNEF data showed.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Bloomberg New Energy Finance projects that new wind and solar will cost less than existing coal and gas generation in China by 2027, and that new wind and solar will be cheaper than existing goal and gas generation in most of the world by 2030. As wind and solar power become increasingly cost-competitive, investments in traditional, inflexible base load plants such as large coal, nuclear, and gas combined-cycle plants are declining. This signals an end to the era of large, centralized power plants that run on fossil fuels.