How the US grid can reach 90% clean electricity by 2035 | RenewEconomy

How the US grid can reach 90% clean electricity by 2035

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New report says US can achieve 90% clean electricity mix by 2035 – as opposed to 55% under a business-as-usual scenario – if it follows a set of institutional, market, and regulatory policies.

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Electricity storage could help electric companies use more wind power. Source: Climate Central
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The true power of government – or lack thereof – has been on display during the lockdown as entire countries have been essentially shut down, resulting in deserted streets, shops, airports, office buildings, parks and beaches.

If governments can take such draconian measures and succeed in flattening the rapid rise of a deadly virus – at least in some countries – they can surely adopt policies to address climate change, an even more serious global crisis that has been with us for a very long time and is not going away any time soon.

That is the message of 2035 Report: Plummeting Solar, Wind, and Battery Costs Can Accelerate our Clean Energy Future, a report from the Goldman School of Public Policy at the Univ. of California, Berkeley.

The report claims that the US can achieve a 90% clean electricity mix by 2035 – as opposed to 55% under a business-as-usual scenario – if it follows a set of institutional, market, and regulatory policies described in a companion report from the Energy Innovation.

See also: World’s fastest energy transition: AEMO maps path to 94 per cent renewables

In contrast to other studies that say deep de-carbonization is only feasible by 2050 and at substantial cost, the 2035 report claims that the US could shift to a 90% clean electricity supply system within 15 years while reducing wholesale power prices by up to 10%, creating millions of new jobs and cutting emissions substantially in the process.

The report says, among other things:

“…. over the next 15 years, we can inject $1.7 trillion into the US economy, support a net increase of more than half a million energy sector jobs each year, and reduce economy-wide emissions by 27%.”

Concerned about the reliability of a grid with such high shares of solar and wind? Not to worry.

“ …. by retaining existing hydropower and nuclear capacity (after accounting for planned retirements), and much of the existing natural gas capacity combined with new battery storage, national electricity demand will be met dependably with a 90% clean grid.”

Concerned about greenhouse gas emissions? It says

“ …. all existing coal plants (will be) retired by 2035, and no new fossil fuel plants (will be) built.”

Concerned about balancing supply and demand given the variability of renewables?

“During normal periods of generation and demand, wind, solar, and batteries provide 70% of annual generation, while hydropower and nuclear provide 20%.”

“During periods of very high demand and/or very low renewable generation, existing natural gas, hydropower, and nuclear plants combined with battery storage cost-effectively compensate for mismatches between demand and wind/solar generation.”

“Generation from natural gas plants constitutes about 10% of total annual electricity generation,

which is about 70% lower than their generation in 2019.”

The proverbial question is what is the catch? – it seems too good to be true. The details of what it takes to achieve the goals may be found in a companion report, Rewiring the US for economic recovery, which spells out the necessary policy and regulatory decisions that must be adopted to achieve the desired outcome, including – (abbreviated & edited):

  •   Adopt a federal carbon-free electricity standard reaching 55% by 2025, 75% by 2030, 90% by 2035, and 100% by 2045;
  •   Extend federal clean energy investment and production tax credits – and extend it to battery storage;
  •   Provide government-backed refinancing to lessen the burden of the coal retirements;
  •   Improve regional transmission planning and allocation of costs;
  •   Invest in innovation and R&D;
  •   Reform wholesale markets to better reward flexibility; and
  •   Reform utility business models to incentivize demand-side management. Commenting on the study’s conclusions, Miachael O’Boyle, co-author of the latter report said,“The one thing that we’ve seen people confused about is that the ‘wholesale costs’ includes incremental transmission. So, the change in cost reflects both the change in generation fleet and associated transmission.”

    He added, “This explains why the study’s cost result is so different from previous studies. The reason is that the study uses real world observed costs of solar, wind, and storage as a starting point, whereas most other studies use outdated cost assumptions. Other than that, there’s really nothing new in this report – and it’s remarkable conclusions.”

    Using up to date assumptions certainly helps. But to put it mildly, it is an ambitious “to-do- list,” easier said than done especially when there are un-enlightened and unsympathetic political leaders at the top.

    As for political leadership, at last, there is evidence of light at the end of an exceptionally long and dark tunnel. In mid-July, Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic candidate for the US presidency, released an ambitious blueprint heavy on renewable energy, climate change and environmental protection.

    Recommendations by the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force are designed to undo the serious damage inflicted by President Donald Trump’s own efforts to obliterate former President Obama’s environmental legacy.
  • While it remains to be seen if Biden gets elected and can deliver on his promises, it offers a hopeful sign. He has called for the installation of 500 million solar panels within 5 years including 8 million solar roofs

    and the elimination of carbon pollution from the power sector by 2035 – in line with the 2035 Report.

    He envisions spending $2 trillion over 4 years to boost clean energy in the transportation, electricity and building sectors. With the November election in mind, Biden said,

    In stark contrast to Trump, he said, “Climate change is a global emergency … we have no time to waste in taking action to protect Americans’ lives and futures.”

    Adding, “We will take immediate action to reverse the Trump Administration’s dangerous and destructive rollbacks of critical climate and environmental protections.”

    The Task Force’s first priority is to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement – Biden said he would do this “on Day One,” if elected. zero- emission vehicles and has called for the installation of 500,000 public charging stations across the country plus net-zero greenhouse gas emissions standards for all new buildings by 2030 – which California also favors.

    Source: Eenergy Informer. Reproduced with permission. Fereidoon P. Sioshansi is president, Menlo Energy Economics

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