All Roads Lead to Net Zero, Not Just the Easy Ones

At-a-Glance:

In May, the International Energy Agency published a report that details the pathway to net-zero emissions in the global energy system. The IEA was born of an oil crisis and its long-term mandate has been the security of the energy supply, to include enough fossil fuel to run the power, transport, and industrial processes of developed economies. It’s a redefinition of a guiding principle for the global energy system—from securing adequate supply to minimizing, or even zeroing out, the impacts of demand. To learn more, read All Roads Lead to Net Zero, Not Just the Easy Ones.” Reading this article may require a subscription from the news outlet.

Key Takeaways:

  • Aluminum is one of the world’s most ubiquitous metals, used in everything from consumer goods to electronics to infrastructure.
    • Producing it is energy-intensive, and at the moment, more than two-thirds of its energy consumption comes from coal and natural gas.
    • Aluminum is responsible for about 4% of industrial emissions and 1% of all global emissions.
  • Alcoa, Rio Tinto, Apple, the government of Canada, and the provincial government of Quebec have invested in a developing process that uses inert anodes—which don’t produce CO₂—and zero-carbon power to drive emissions to zero.
  • BNEF ran the numbers and the production costs with this method could be lower than with traditional methods—and significantly lower than with processes that use carbon offsets to cancel out their CO₂ emissions.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Clean energy investments around the world have been growing at more than $300 billion annually over the course of the past five years. McKinsey’s Global Energy Perspective 2019 predicts that by 2035, renewable energy generation will account for 50% of the world’s total generation. That, in turn, is expected to substantially increase the demand for several metals such as copper, aluminium, bauxite, iron, lead, graphite, tin, nickel and zinc which are used to produce renewable energy.

Stockpiles of various metals, to include aluminum, are deplenishing, while the time to find new reserves is increasing. This could lead to a situation where the production of metals will not be able to keep up with increasing demand. The Rocky Mountain Institute’s Renewable Resources at Mines tracker, estimates there are 57 mines across 21 countries with a total installed renewable energy capacity of 1178 MW.

 

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The Renewable Energy Asset Rotation Cycle Is Stuck

At-a-Glance:

Bloomberg NEF calculates that meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement with a combination of zero-carbon electricity and hydrogen would require more than $60 trillion of power sector investment, plus more than $30 trillion of investment in hydrogen production and transport by 2050. Flex a few technical choices – such as switching over dedicated nuclear power plants to manufacturing hydrogen – and the total price tag is $100 trillion or more. To learn more, read “The Renewable Energy Asset Rotation Cycle Is Stuck.” Reading this article may require a subscription from the news outlet.

Key Takeaways:

  • Pumping up the flow of trillions of dollars from giant asset managers to early stage companies looking to make these investments will be a big job for the world’s capital markets and will depend on financial systems functioning perfectly.
  • Currently, some assets aren’t rotating like they used to, particularly in Europe. EDP, Portugal’s major electric utility, rotated 87% of its assets from 2014 to 2016, but intends to only rotate 35% of mostly-renewable assets from now until 2025.
  • There are a number of reasons rotation might be slow.
    • Renewable assets with stable financial returns look attractive on the corporate balance sheet.
    • Green finance allows companies to refinance assets advantageously and increase those returns on their books without cashing out of early-stage assets.

Path to 100% Perspective:

The U.S. is a global leader in renewable energy with the second largest installed capacity in the world. Total private sector investment in renewable energy reached a record USD $55.5 billion in 2019, an increase of 28% year on year. Federal government support for clean energy has been significantly reduced in recent years, with federal energy initiatives primarily being focused on the fossil fuel sector. However, 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.

2020 Set A New Record For Renewable Energy. What’s The Catch?

At-a-Glance:

All over the world, the growth of green energy is accelerating. More than 80% of all new electricity generating projects built last year were renewable, leading to a 10.3% rise in total installed zero carbon electricity generation globally, a new report shows. Yet in spite of reduced energy demand in 2020 as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, fossil fuel electricity generation also continued to grow. So, therefore, did carbon emissions. To learn more, read “2020 Set A New Record For Renewable Energy. What’s The Catch?” Reading this article may require a subscription from the news outlet.

Key Takeaways:

  • The report, from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), revealed that 91% of new renewables last year were wind and solar projects, with solar generation having grown the fastest, up by 127 gigawatts—a 22% increase from 2019.
  • But the IRENA report also found that, in spite of lower energy demand and the larger share of renewables in 2020, fossil fuel capacity also increased, though not by quite as much as seen during the previous year, rising 60 gigawatts as compared with 64 gigawatts in 2019.
  • A plan to retire and replace coal and gas plants is essential to reduce emissions, as well as enable workers from those industries to transition into the renewable energy sector.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Renewable energy is widely acknowledged to create more jobs than fossil fuels. McKinsey Sustainability, for example, reports that for every $10 million USD of government spending on renewable technologies 75 jobs are typically created, compared to 27 jobs in the fossil fuels sector. Additionally, renewable energy generates more labor-intensive jobs in the short run, when jobs are scarce, which boosts spending and increases short-run GDP. In the long run, renewable energy requires less labor for operation and maintenance, which frees up labor as the economy returns to capacity.

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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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CEOs outline 3 trends hitting electricity

At-a-Glance:

Major power companies held earnings calls in recent weeks to share their focus on issues such as expanding renewables and the role of hydrogen under a national push for 100 percent clean electricity. Additionally, CEO’s discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic is threatening to delay solar projects and defer grid maintenance. To learn more, read “CEOs outline 3 trends hitting electricity.” Reading this article may require a subscription.

Key Takeaways:

Here are the issues that major electric companies are focused on as 2020 winds down:

  • One effect of the coronavirus pandemic may impact renewable energy development. NRG Energy Inc. CEO Mauricio Gutierrez said a chunk of the pending purchased power in Texas may be delayed six to eight months because of supply chain and financing issues related to the virus.
  • CenterPoint Energy Inc. CEO David Lesar said the company will work on renewable natural gas and hydrogen renewables in Minnesota plus possible new transmission infrastructure to connect to renewable sources in Texas.
  • CEO John Ketchum of NextEra Energy Resources LLC said hydrogen will come into play if federal policy accelerates a zero-carbon goal by 2035.
  • Vistra Corp CEO Curt Morgan said Vistra has “a portfolio of highly efficient, low-emitting natural gas assets that can provide reliable, dispatchable power and complement the intermittent nature of renewable resources.” He explained a diverse portfolio enables renewable products that can ensure reliability and an affordable price. “Every reputable and objective study on the changing power generation landscape has natural gas playing a significant role for several years to come, especially as we electrify the economy,” Morgan said.

Path to 100% Perspective:

These are exciting times as the renewable energy future is a focus for so many organizations and governments around the world. Emerging technologies are moving closer to reality, which makes ambitious energy goals more realistic and the path to 100 percent renewable energy is now within reach. The big challenge facing power generators around 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. Renewable carbon neutral fuels such as hydrogen and synthetic methane are being explored as solutions for sustainable and reliable power systems. Curtailed renewable electricity is used in the process with water to produce Hydrogen, and carbon is captured from air to produce synthetic methane with hydrogen. These fuels are used in flexible power plants to provide a long term energy storage for seasonal and weather management needs.

 

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