How Wind and Solar Power Got the Best of the Pandemic AND Wind, Solar Power Made Strong Gains in 2020, IEA Says

At-a-Glance:

Global recessions, wars, and pandemics have a way of driving down energy demand. Last year, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said the collapse in global primary energy demand brought on by COVID-19 was the biggest drop since the end of World War II, itself the biggest drop since the influenza pandemic after World War I. IEA also reported that renewable power capacity grew at its fastest pace this century in 2020, raising its growth forecast for wind and solar power for this year and next.According to the Paris-based energy watchdog, renewables were the only energy source for which demand increased last year. The addition to the world’s renewable electricity capacity last year was 45% more than in the prior year and the biggest jump since 1999, as wind and solar farms sprang up across the world’s major economies. To learn more, read How Wind and Solar Power Got the Best of the Pandemic AND Wind, Solar Power Made Strong Gains in 2020, IEA Says.” Reading these articles may require a subscription from the news outlets.

Key Takeaways:

  • Renewable energy installations not only increased during the pandemic, they exceeded even the most bullish of expectations, with wind installations increasing 90% and solar increasing 23%.
  • IEA estimates that in 2022, renewables will account for 90% of new power capacity expansion globally.
  • ​​“Wind and solar power are giving us more reasons to be optimistic about our climate goals as they break record after record,” said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol, adding that greater use of lower-carbon electricity was needed for the world to achieve its carbon-reduction goals.
  • The European Union plans to spend $1 trillion to reach its goal of net carbon neutrality by 2050.

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. More than 70% of energy stimulus funding is currently allocated to legacy fossil fuels, compared to less than 30% to clean energy. However, reallocating $72 billion in energy stimulus funding could achieve:

  • 107 GW of new renewable energy capacity
  • 6.5 % rise in share of renewable electricity generation (from 17.5% to 24% renewable electricity).
  • 544,000 new jobs in renewable energy, 175% more jobs than if the same stimulus was used to revive the legacy energy sector.

Duke Energy Faces Challenges to Its Push for New Natural Gas Plants

At-a-Glance:

Duke Energy’s plan to build gigawatts’ worth of new natural gas generators to supply its grid over the next 15 years has already drawn fire from clean-energy advocates who say it violates the utility’s long-range decarbonization goals and could leave customers paying for power plants that can’t economically compete with cleaner alternatives. To learn more, read Duke Energy Faces Challenges to Its Push for New Natural Gas Plants.”

Key Takeaways:

  • In Duke’s integrated resource plan (IRP) for its Carolina utilities, only one of six pathways for reaching net-zero carbon by 2050 avoids building new natural gas plants. The rest propose between 6.1 – 9.6 gigawatts of new natural gas capacity.
  • The IRP also notes that Duke is planning a massive build-out of clean-energy capacity, including between 8.7 – 16.4 GW of new solar and 1 – 7.5 GW of new energy storage, depending on each scenario’s targeted levels of carbon emissions reduction.
  • A key issue highlighted by Duke’s critics is that its IRP appears to have inflated its peak electricity demands and underestimated the amount of resources available to meet its winter loads.
  • A second key issue is that Duke’s IRP appears to undervalue solar power, batteries, demand-side management, and energy efficiency as cost-effective alternatives to building new power plants.
  • An independent analysis by Synapse Energy Economics found that taking a solar-battery path could reduce overall system cost by $7.2 billion, out of a range of 15-year costs; reduce carbon dioxide emissions by tens of millions of tons per year; and provide enough capacity to carry Duke through its electric-heating-driven winter peaks without threatening grid reliability.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Duke is facing the challenge of the pressure to decarbonize quickly, all while maintaining reliability for their customers. Fast-start, flexible thermal plants can help utilities meet rigorous carbon reduction targets, maintain grid reliability and minimize costs. They are designed to burn natural gas today and convert to renewable fuels produced using power-to-methane (or hydrogen) in the future. Power-to-methane (PtM) is one of a growing number of power-to-gas processes. PtM sequesters carbon from the air through direct-air carbon capture. This process is coupled with electrolysis for hydrogen, and a methanation process to combine carbon and hydrogen into synthetic methane. The electricity used to power this process comes from excess renewable (e.g., wind and solar) or carbon-free (e.g., hydro or nuclear) sources. Thus, the fuel produced from PtM is renewable.

 

Photo by American Public Power Association on Unsplash

San Antonio Utility Taking Steps Into An Ultra-Green Future

At-a-Glance:

Electric utilities are making efforts to reduce and end carbon emissions. But right now, they’re struggling with the overselling of alternatives when they don’t have enough essential backup in the form of storage. They also have the huge imperative of maintaining service — in lay terms, keeping the lights on. CPS Energy, San Antonio’s municipally owned electric and gas utility with over 860,000 electric and 358,000 gas customers, is putting its best big green foot forward, but wants to avoid being trapped into rigidity. To learn more, read “San Antonio Utility Taking Steps Into An Ultra-Green Future.”

Key Takeaways:

  • CPS Energy has canvassed the world, seeking ideas that will best deliver 500 MWe of new technology, 900 MWe of solar power and 50 MWe of storage.
  • In response to the CPS Energy July request for information (RFI), the utility has received nearly 200 expressions of interest from around the world.
  • The responses break down this way:
    • Refined gas-powered generation, turbines or reciprocating engines
    • Compressed-air energy storage
    • Liquid air (cryogenic) energy storage
    • Thermal energy storage, using mostly waste heat in concrete or rock hosts
    • Underground pumped hydro, using abandoned oil wells and mines for the drop
    • Kinetic storage with flywheels
  • These technologies promise longer duration, higher efficiency, and less degradation than today’s available battery storage, CPS Energy leadership said.

Path to 100% Perspective:

CPS has developed a Flexible Path plan with goals of reaching an 80 percent non-carbon-emitting energy portfolio by 2040 and reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The Texas municipal utility plans to add about 900 megawatts of solar, 50 megawatts of energy storage and 500 megawatts of new technology solutions, to include alternative fuels.

 

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash