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.”

 

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%.

 

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Biggest biofuel producer in US pledges carbon neutrality by 2050

At-a-Glance:

The largest biofuel manufacturer in the U.S., POET, announced a new goal this week of reaching carbon neutrality by the year 2050. The company said in a sustainability report that it has a number of benchmarks it aims to meet toward that objective, including reducing the carbon intensity of bioethanol by 70 percent and investing in technology to advance low-carbon bioproducts. The company also said it would aim to advance policies that support these goals. To learn more, read, Biggest biofuel producer in US pledges carbon neutrality by 2050.”

Key Takeaways:

  • Carbon neutrality differs from zero emissions as companies that commit to neutrality aim to offset their carbon footprint by attempting to remove the same amount of CO2 from the atmosphere that they contribute.
    • Many companies do this by buying carbon offset credits that go toward sustainability projects.
  • In its report, POET claimed to be the fastest-growing renewable CO2 business in the U.S.
  • The company said it would “consider” numerous ways of reducing carbon emissions including investing in solar power as well as technologies to capture and store CO2.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Government agencies, communities and organizations are pledging to reach clean energy or carbon neutrality goals with ambitious timelines. However, the only way to reach these complex solutions in the next few decades is strategic planning and integration of multiple technologies. Biofuels have been part of the energy transition since the 1980’s, but the focus on biofuels gained more traction in the early 2000’s. Since then, the cost for renewable energy has dramatically increased which has increased the popularity for fuels produced by renewable energy such as hydrogen, ammonia and synthetic methane. POET’s increased focus and investment in emerging technologies could help to propel this biofuel manufacturer towards their carbon neutral goals and milestones.

 

Photo by Guillaume de Germain on Unsplash

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.

 

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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