How far have we really gotten with alternative energy?

At-a-Glance: 

Electricity generation from coal, oil and natural gas represented 60% of all power generated world-wide this year, down from 67% in 2010, according to data and consulting firm IHS Markit. That is likely to drop to 42% to 48% by 2030, depending on how aggressively countries move toward renewables. Each of the alternative fuels has its own potential, and its own obstacles. Here’s a closer look at current status and outlook for five types of carbon-free energy that could play a bigger role in the future. To learn more, read “How Far Have We Really Gotten With Alternative Energy?” Reading this article may require a subscription from the media outlet.

Key Takeaways:

  • The Energy Department says the U.S. now gets just 3% of its power from solar sources. 
    • Globally, just 4% percent of power generation this year is from solar, up from 1.4% five years ago, according to IHS Markit. 
    • Global installations will likely increase 20% this year to 175 gigawatts, according to IHS Markit. 
    • That’s about enough to power roughly 35 million U.S. households for a year.
  • About 10% of global commercial electricity production came from nuclear power in 2020, well below the high point in the mid-1990s of 17.5%, according to the latest World Nuclear Industry Status Report.
  • Wind provides about 7% of the world’s electricity, a share projected to at least double by 2030, according to IHS Markit. 
    • Installations last year reached a record 93 gigawatts, up 53% from 2019, according to the Global Wind Energy Council industry group.
  • Geothermal plants provide less than 1% of the world’s electricity, but drilling has been on the rise for the past six years. 
    • An estimated 180 wells are being drilled each year for power generation, and that number is expected to rise to 500 by 2025.
  • The International Energy Agency says hydrogen currently supplies less than 1% of the world’s energy, and adds that only 1% of that amount is low-carbon, or green, hydrogen. 
    • The Hydrogen Council trade group forecasts that hydrogen could supply 20% of the world’s energy by 2050.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Natural gas is a necessary factor in the transition towards cutting carbon emissions. Yet to achieve a net-zero goal, it is crucial for coal and oil fired plants to diminish entirely if we have any chance of reaching the proposed targets. Natural gas can be used to reduce carbon emission and aid in the transition to implementing alternative fuels once available, and economically priced. The urgency of the climate crisis demands that the power sector pioneers the rapid decarbonization of economies worldwide. The technology needed to reach net zero already exists, however, planning and investment are needed to accelerate the energy transition. Critically, it’s not just economics that’s driving the energy transition. Today’s global targets for 2030 are nowhere near enough to meet the Paris targets, as the United Nations (UN) has made clear. Globally, emissions must be cut in half over the next decade. 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. To achieve this, utilities must commit to front-loading their efforts and investment strategies. 

 

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Total Sees Oil Demand Peaking Before 2030 in Power Switch

At-a-Glance:

French energy giant TotalEnergies SE expects global oil demand to peak before the end of this decade, as more nations crack down on fossil fuels and promote cleaner power in transport and industry to mitigate global warming. Total’s 2021 Energy Outlook, which takes into account new net-zero pledges made by countries including the U.S. and China, assumes crude demand will plateau before 2030 and then decline. To learn more, read, “Total Sees Oil Demand Peaking Before 2030 in Power Switch.”

Key Takeaways:

  • Total’s Momentum scenario, which is based on environmental targets and policies announced worldwide, points to a 2.2 to 2.4-degree increase in global temperatures by the end of the century.
  • This year’s report “considerably” raises the company’s forecasts for global solar and wind investments by the middle of the century to electrify transport as governments increasingly ban the sale of internal combustion vehicles.
  • Meanwhile, natural gas is seen keeping its role as a transition fuel, especially as carbon dioxide and methane emissions are increasingly reined in.

Path to 100% Perspective: 

According to the IEA’s landmark 2050 roadmap, there is a viable pathway to build a global net zero emissions energy sector by 2050, but it is narrow and calls for a transformation in how energy is produced, transported and used globally. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recommends that to limit global warming to 1.5C°, global CO2 emissions should decline by 45% by 2030 in comparison to 2010 and reach net zero by 2050.

Meanwhile, the price of electricity does not need to increase when power systems move to net zero. Utilities are shifting from a costly operational expenditure (opex) model, where capital is continually drawn into fuelling and maintaining legacy inflexible coal, oil, and gas plants – to a new model where up-front capital expenditure (capex) is invested in predictable, low maintenance, renewable energy 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 – and earning rewards from capacity mechanisms.

 

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ERCOT releases plan to boost reliability after blackouts, as report outlines gas, electric failures

At-a-Glance:

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas released a 60-point roadmap outlining how the grid operator plans to ensure the state’s power grid is more reliable, following the catastrophic blackouts last winter that almost shut down the region’s entire electric system. A report released by he University of Texas at Austin’s Energy Institute analyzes what went wrong,  finding the outages that plagued Texas last winter were caused by multiple failures across the gas and electric systems, including, in part, fuel shortages, outages at critical fuel facilities and non-weatherized power plants. To learn more, read “ERCOT releases plan to boost reliability after blackouts, as report outlines gas, electric failures.”

Key Takeaways:

  • The Texas legislature passed comprehensive legislation intended to overhaul the state’s power grid and strengthen reliability.
    • Two of the bills, signed into law, will require power companies to weatherize their power plants and transmission lines, and require ERCOT’s board to be appointed by state legislators.
  • UT’s report found the “failure” of the natural gas and electric system during the February winter storm “had no single cause.”
    • All generation technologies — gas, coal and nuclear plants, as well as solar and wind facilities — failed in some capacity as a result of the storm.
  • ERCOT’s most extreme winter scenario underestimated demand by about 9,600 MW, or 14%, the report found, while weather models inaccurately predicted the timing and severity of the storm.
  • Several generating units were not weatherized properly, the report found, in part leading to these issues.

Path to 100% Perspective: 

February’s arctic cold wave caused widespread blackouts in Texas because many power plants were not designed for extreme ambient temperatures, which caused them to become inoperable during the below freezing temperatures. Winterizing gas supply and power plants is required to avoid another blackout scenario. Although it is more expensive to winterize the gas supply and power plants, it is necessary to offer reliability. On the open electricity markets, plant investors struggle to see the point of winterizing for extreme conditions that may not happen. Indeed, it is going to be more expensive to engineer power plants to expand the temperature range down from 15 degrees fahrenheit to 0 degrees fahrenheit, but the critical need for power during these conditions would make the investment prudent.

NREL releases five-year study on continent-wide integration of renewable energy resources

At-a-Glance:

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) released findings from it five-year North American Renewable Integration Study (NARIS), which aims to inform grid planners, utilities, industry, policymakers, and other stakeholders about challenges and opportunities for continental system integration of large amounts of wind, solar, and hydropower to support a low-carbon future grid.

The study looked at a range of future scenarios and considered potential impacts on costs, emissions, resource adequacy, and specific technologies. To learn more, read “NREL releases five-year study on continent-wide integration of renewable energy resources.” 

Key Takeaways:

  • NREL said that four key findings emerged from the analysis.
    • Finding 1: Multiple Pathways Can Lead to 80% Power-Sector Carbon Reduction Continent-Wide by 2050.
    • Finding 2: The Future Low-Carbon Power System Can Balance Supply and Demand in a Wide Range of Future Conditions.
    • Finding 3: Interregional and International Cooperation Can Provide Significant Net System Benefits Through 2050.
    • Finding 4: Operational Flexibility Comes From Transmission, Storage, and Flexible Operation of All Generator Types.

Path to 100% Perspective: 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recommends that to limit global warming to 1.5C°, global CO2 emissions should decline by 45% by 2030 in comparison to 2010 and reach net zero by 2050. The latest IPCC report finds that unless there are immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, the opportunity to limit warming to close to 1.5°C or even 2°C will slip beyond our reach. A rapid acceleration in renew- able energy output can provide the near-term emissions reductions that are crucial for holding the global temperature rise to 1.5C°, but only if pathways to 100% renewables are fully embraced by energy leaders. 

The grid’s big looming problem: Getting power to where it’s needed

At-a-Glance:

In the punishing heat wave that struck the Pacific Northwest, about 17,000 electricity customers were without power in Washington state in June. Nearly 20,000 more were enduring blackouts in Idaho, Oregon, California and Nevada. Those aren’t devastating numbers, but they are a reminder that the electrical grid in America is frayed and always operating close to the edge. To learn more, read “The grid’s big looming problem: Getting power to where it’s needed.” Reading this article may require a subscription from the news outlet.

Key Takeaways:

  • A central issue is chronic congestion on transmission lines that bring power from where it’s made to where it’s wanted.
  • In Texas, ERCOT says congestion costs the state about $1 billion a year. In northern Vermont, officials have put a moratorium on new solar and wind projects, because the transmission lines can’t carry any more electricity.
  • A consequence of congestion is that wind and solar equipment is sometimes unable to operate because there is no room on the lines to carry their electricity. For example, in New York state last year, 62 gigawatt-hours of wind power was curtailed.
  • A larger problem is that wind, solar, and other projects can wait years before they get the green light to connect to transmission lines. Currently, the waiting list includes proposed renewable power plants capable of turning out 680 gigawatts.
  • Up to now, much of the country has pursued a market-based approach, with different companies producing, transmitting and distributing power.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Addressing grid capacity will be essential to realizing a 100% zero emission electricity system by 2035. To accommodate the significant amount of renewables to be installed, flexibility in the form of energy storage and carbon neutral flexible gas power plants will be key to balancing the grid. The U.S. will need 410 GW of new battery energy storage by 2035, combined with 116 GW of new flexible gas-fired power capacity operating on renewable bio or synthetic carbon neutral fuels.

 

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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.

Tucson Electric turns on its biggest renewable-energy plants to date

At-a-Glance:

The electricity powering most of Tucson, including the University of Arizona, got a little cleaner the week of May 3, as Tucson Electric Power Company (TEP) switched on its biggest solar and wind power plants to date. To learn more, read “Tucson Electric turns on its biggest renewable-energy plants to date.” Reading this article may require a subscription from the news outlet.

Key Takeaways:

  • The 1,130 acre project, built and owned by NextEra Energy, includes 30MW of linked battery storage to bank solar power for use when the sun goes down.
    • The Wilmot Energy Center is expected to generate enough energy to power the equivalent of 26,000 typical TEP homes.
  • TEP’s biggest renewable energy resource, the 250MW Oso Grande Wind Project in New Mexico, went online a couple of weeks later. Consisting of 62 wind turbines on 24,000 acres, Oso Grande is expected to generate enough energy each year to serve about 90,000 homes.
  • With Wilmot and Oso Grande online, TEP will have 628MW of large, community-scale wind and solar resources – with the 99MW Borderlands Wind Project, being built 100 miles south of Gallup, New Mexico, coming online by the end of 2021.
  • The new solar and wind farms will help TEP toward its goal of generating 70% of its power from renewables and cutting its carbon emissions by 80% by 2035.
  • TEP has dedicated a portion of its output to provide the UA campus with “100% clean energy” under a 20-year, green energy agreement announced in 2019.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Electric utilities such as TEP are embracing their role in reducing climate emissions by shifting to renewable energy sources, like solar and wind. As a growing number of cities, states, and nations set goals for increasing amounts of renewable energy, economics is helping bring those plans to fruition. 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%. The cost-competitiveness of renewables is making it possible to accelerate decarbonization of power systems such as TEP.

NextEra Aims to Buy More U.S. Power Lines to Fuel Renewable Push

At-a-Glance:

NextEra Energy Inc. wants to buy more power lines to tap into rising demand for renewable energy, weeks after closing a $660-million deal for such transmission wires. The Florida-based company plans to expand its business both by developing and acquiring transmission assets. In March, NextEra bought GridLiance, which owns about 700 miles of high-voltage transmission lines, for about $660 million from Blackstone Group Inc. To learn more, read “NextEra Aims to Buy More U.S. Power Lines to Fuel Renewable Push.”  Reading this article may require a subscription from the news outlet.

Key Takeaways:

  • Corporate executives are encouraged by President Joe Biden’s focus on renewables, which is in turn encouraging more companies to expand their investment in renewables.
  • NextEra plans to add up to 30,000 megawatts of wind, solar and battery storage by 2024.
  • The country will need to expand its transmission grids by as much as 60% for wind and solar to make up half of U.S. electricity capacity by 2030 to meet the President’s goal of a fully green U.S. power grid by 2035.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Carbon neutral and carbon free systems must install enough capacity (with the right capabilities) to meet energy needs in worst-case scenarios. At a minimum, to assure reliability and avoid blackouts, utility system planners and policy makers need to account for seasonal trends in availability of renewable resources. Meanwhile, inflexible power systems cannot keep up with wind and solar’s variability, so power plants have to stay online and burn fuel even on sunny or windy days when they are not needed. In practice, this limits power systems to using perhaps 30% renewable generation. Any more than that gets curtailed. Therefore, additional investment in more transmission is required to meet the growing demand.

 

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.

 

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Cal-ISO renewable capacity climbs, storage resources coming onto system

At-a-Glance

The California Independent System Operator added 2.1 GW of capacity to its grid in 2020 with another 3.3 GW permitted with online dates in 2020 or 2021 as the state works to achieve its ambitious 100% clean energy mandate over the next 25 years. To learn more, read Cal-ISO renewable capacity climbs, storage resources coming onto system.”

Key Takeaways

  • In 2020, Cal-ISO had 2.1 GW of capacity added through September of which 1.3 GW was gas-fired, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) data.
  • EIA also shows 3.3 GW permitted with an online date in either 2020 or 2021. About 2,500 MW of this is under construction which includes 1.5 GW solar, 800 MW battery and 200 MW wind.
  • Cal-ISO president and CEO Elliot Mainzer has said the grid operator is working to improve its resource adequacy system following the rotating outages in August.
  • “Longer term, we’re working very closely with the [Public Utilities Commission], the Energy Commission and others in the regulatory space to try to make sure the resource adequacy paradigm in California is modernized sufficiently to recognize the changing resource mix,” Mainzer said. “There’s a lot of additional solar and batteries and wind and other renewables coming onto the system.”
  • Renewable generation curtailments in 2020 were up 220% year on year, according to ISO data.

Path to 100% Perspective

No power system can achieve 100% renewable electricity just by adding more renewable generation. It also needs to slash fossil-fueled generation. That means reducing reliance on traditional gas- and coal-fired plants, whether they’re used for baseload or to back up variable renewable generation. And that can be harder than you might think. The challenge is that traditional fossil-fuel-powered plants are inflexible: they can’t just switch off when the sun is high and switch back on when the sun sets. Because traditional power stations require many hours to shut down and many hours to start back up, they cannot power up and down quickly enough to handle predictable shifts in demand and generation, let alone unexpected changes in the weather. To ensure a steady flow of electricity, California’s traditional gas-fired power stations have to keep running at 40% to 50% capacity, even on a bright, sunny day. Running at low capacity is inefficient and emits large amounts of climate-warming carbon.

 

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The New Green Energy Giants Challenging Exxon and BP

At-a-Glance

A decade ago, NextEra, Iberdrola and Enel were sleepy regional utilities with little name recognition. Now they are fast-growing giants with market values rivaling the likes of oil majors Exxon Mobil Corp. and BP PLC, thanks to their early all-in bets on wind and solar farms. Their early lead in the global transition away from oil has put these companies on track to become the major energy companies of the coming decades—the “green energy majors.” But they now face the threat of increased competition as some of the oil titans that have traditionally dominated the energy industry diversify into wind and solar power. To learn more, read “The New Green Energy Giants Challenging Exxon and BP.” Reading this article could require a subscription.

Key Takeaways

  • NextEra, Enel SpA and Iberdrola SA are Wall Street darlings, after Spain’s Iberdrola and Italy’s Enel became global builders of green energy projects, while NextEra became America’s largest generator of wind and solar power.
  • Enel and Iberdrola have outlined plans to substantially expand their portfolios of renewable-energy projects over the next decade with about $170 billion in collective investments.
  • Florida-based NextEra grew into America’s largest renewable energy producer by keeping debt levels low, capitalizing on federal tax subsidies available to help finance wind and solar projects around the country and reinvesting its profits to expand further. NextEra expects to have invested $60 billion in renewable energy projects between 2019 and 2022.
  • Denmark’s Ørsted A/S, a company formerly known as DONG Energy that focused on oil and gas, has transitioned into a leading player in offshore wind projects.

Path to 100% Perspective

As NextEra became more valuable than Exxon in 2020, it became increasingly clear that the status quo in energy is now in the rearview mirror and the path to 100% is nearly paved. Oil companies are not holding on to the past or unrealistic expectations for the future of energy. Instead, they are joining the race to renewables using their name recognition, influence in the energy sector and budgets to spur more competition to the benefit of those striving for a renewable energy future.

 

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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.

 

 

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