This group brings together the best thinkers on energy and climate. Join us for smart, insightful posts and conversations about where the energy industry is and where it is going.

Question

How can we align the leadership of the global energy industry to accelerate the end to climate disruption?

With the U.N. Climate Action Summit in New York rapidly approaching, Secretary-General Guterres and Special Envoy de Alba are doing all they can to accelerate initiatives around the world to execute on the Paris Agreement policy framework to stop climate disruption and reverse its impact.  The latest analysis shows that if we act now, we can reduce carbon emissions within 12 years and hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C and even, as asked by the latest science, to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. 

(Source: flicker-UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe) Opening of High-level Summit of the Climate Change convened by the United Nations Secretary-General

With no doubt, reversing climate disruption is the greatest challenge of our times, and as it affects everyone and is dependent not only on national economies, but also on the actions of governments, the private sector, civil society, local authorities and other international organizations, it is the most difficult to govern and orchestrate. As Secretary-General Guterres says, “We must change course by 2020, or we risk missing the point where we can avoid the disastrous consequences for people and all the natural systems that sustain us.”  

My question to our industry is – what can we do to align the best minds in the energy sector to accelerate and synchronize their efforts and spur global energy market forces to meet the ambitious timetable and goals of the 2020 UN roadmap to climate action?

Answers

Best Answer

Okay.   I'll make this very simple, but it needs an enormous amount of flesh.

I know U.S. numbers and the U.S. is about 15 - 20% of the problem globally, so it's a good example.   There are three technology groups which are imperative for a climate solution.   Efficiency, wind and solar.   With them, everything else matters.   Without them, nothing matters.   The reason is simply that efficiency, wind and solar can provide 100% of the renewable electricity we need to displace all fossil fuels, and they are cheap enough to do so while also lowering the cost of electricity (and paying for the modest amount of storage we actually need, as opposed to the enormous amounts many other people have claimed incorrectly).

If we build about 60,000 MW's of wind, and 36,000 MW's of solar every year, in about ten years we will have a 100% renewable grid, unless we choose to keep some of the natural gas plants going, and use some of the new renewable electricity to fuel cars, air-to-air heat pumps, and a host of other resources which will replace all the more obscure uses for fossil fuels.

If we continue to build that much wind and solar, in 20 years we will have about 160% of today's electricity, which will provide power to replace most of the aging nuclear plants, replace gasoline, and replace most of the easier diesel vehicles.    We will also be able to replace furnaces with heat pumps and natural gas used to make ammonia fertilizer with hydrogen from renewable electricity.   What is different about all of this is that three years ago we couldn't have claimed that doing this would save money across the board.   Today we can.   Wind and solar at three cents per KWh produce hydrogen which is about the same price as current wholesale gasoline.   Today we have contracts for wind and solar under 2 cents.  When the wind tax credit is gone at the end of this year, wind will still be less than half the cost of fossil, nuclear and natural gas generation in many places, and less than some of it everywhere.   By the time we build enough of it to capture all the current opportunities to reduce costs, wind and solar will be even cheaper, and fossil and nuclear fuels will probably be more expensive.

It's a shame that at this point we still have to spend a sentence pointing out that nuclear power is insanely expensive and cannot be deployed fast enough to matter, but we do.    We also can expect to keep most of the existing hydropower, geothermal and biomass generation, but very little additional will be competitive with wind and solar.   Storage is already cheap enough to make this vision happen.   We haven't reached the point where a market signal for storage exists.   That probably won't happen until we have about 40% of our electricity from either wind or solar, and storage is already being built for other purposes.    There are a number of storage technologies which aren't household concepts the way batteries are, which will be in the running for real deployment.

I want to mention my pet theory, which is that with electricity at 2 - 3 cents per KWh in most of the world, we are likely to build enough wind and solar to produce a significant amount of electricity above consumption.   There will be a healthy "dispatchable load" market for discounted power that is sold when it is available.  One of the uses, one which could shape all the others, is making hydrogen to store in existing natural gas storage facilities, to use in existing natural gas plants (with modifications) as storage.   It also preserves some value in some natural gas plants which might otherwise be unable to recover a healthy return after repaying their original cost.

The 60,000 MW's of wind and 36,000 MW's of solar could easily be 50,000 of each, if solar becomes cheaper than wind per KWh.    Unless solar becomes so much cheaper than wind that solar plus storage is cheaper than wind, I doubt that the mix will be much less than 50/50, with the remaining hydro/biomass/geothermal mix.  In any case, I'm not trying to promote any particular mix.   Just to define a scenario which permits us to consider the requirements seriously. 

The 160% of today's generation by 2040 (if we start next year) gets U.S. total greenhouse emissions down 70%.   The remaining 30% depends a little on alternative refrigerants, but those could be made easier with abundant cheap electricity, and the remaining emissions are likely to have solutions also made easier with abundant cheap electricity.

This strategy is the solution to rural poverty in the United States, and in the rest of the world.   I'm not going to spell that out here, but the economic benefits to rural communities is an astonishingly important part of this, given how little attention it has received.

The ratios of electricity to other fossil fuels will differ somewhat in other countries.   The places where this approach is easier in the United States far outnumber the places where it is harder, in size and total energy requirements.

This quite literally poses an economic boom unlike anything our world has seen since the 1950's and 60's in the West.

I'm more experienced with efficiency than with renewables.   Efficiency is awesomely simple to promote.   Give the utilities a share of the verified savings, equal to slightly more than they make in rate of return.  Give it in net present value the year following evaluation, which must be done and you wind up saving $6 - 10 for every dollar spent.  The incentive not only gets it done, it also gives the utility a clear economic signal to make its programs run well.  This has been well understood by a tiny handful of experts for quite a long time, but for some reason we can't break into mainstream awareness.   Our current programs save about $30 billion per year, and we could double that in a matter of months if we mandated the incentives overnight.  More likely, some Federal policy would help, but the regulatory work needs to be done in each state.

Renewables may not need any further incentive, now that they are so cheap.   What they absolutely need is confidence in market stability, which is what the Federal tax credits provide.    If I were calling the shots I would preserve the existing tax credits (the wind tax credit in 2019 is 40% of what it was in 2015) until the renewable energy goal is met.  The numbers I give for wind and solar are intended to produce 5.5 GWh's of new generation per year at the actual rate of generation realized by these technologies in 2018.   We might need less, or want more.

I don't think we need much else.   Existing fossil and nuclear industries are either going to jump on the bandwagon, or fade away, as they choose.  Attention to retraining and local economic impacts is appropriate, but not bailouts and golden parachutes.

Government officials tend to want to deal with these issues without understanding the economics.   We need to reinforce the factual issues of the lower cost of efficiency, wind and solar by learning them ourselves, and learning how to reinforce eachother as we tell people that this sustainable future is a wonderful place.

I spent a lot of time in the last couple of years talking about conveying a vision of a successful climate response.   It's still a valid concept, and perhaps the real need.  

I suppose I also need to point out that my vision depends on utility scale solar because rooftop solar is not competitive with wholesale fossil or nuclear generation.   But the fact is that a lot of people are building and installing rooftop solar, 30% of total U.S. solar, and probably a similar fraction or larger on a global basis.

This is pretty close to the path of least economic resistance, and that is what is working today.   It costs a fraction of the cost of any perceived carbon tax policy.   It costs substantially less than what we are doing today on a per KWh basis.    It doesn't solve all the climate problems, but it makes solving the other parts worthwhile.

I figure that if a couple of hundred people agreed on something like this vision we could make it happen.   In the U.S. it represents about five times as much wind as we are building right now, and about seven times as much solar, but only three times as much wind as we built in 2012, which is our peak year, and only about five times as much solar as we built in 2016.   Efficiency is already eliminating about 1.7% of total U.S. electricity with new efficiency installed every year, and we could increase that by at least 1% as I described with incentives.   That would bring 44 states up to the efficiency program level of the best six states.

The entire proposal is less than the rate of new coal that the U.S. built for thirty years from 1940 to 1970, and less than China built new coal for about 15 of the last 20 years.   And it divides that rate among three technology groups, not just one.   It is feasible in a way which no other concept I've ever seen is.

Carbon taxes and cap and trade laws would help, but they create diversionary perceptions and issues.  Such as people giving up entertainment and health care to pay a little more for fossil fuels.  Or uneconomic decisions made to comply with a cap.   Or misrepresentations such as fragile and impermanent biosequestration being used to justify continued fossil fuel use.

Anyways, I'll be eager to see how others see this.

GEORGE WAYNE's picture
GEORGE WAYNE on Sep 18, 2019 3:10 am GMT

Ned what is the carbon footprint If we build about 60,000 MW's of wind, and 36,000 MW's of solar every year with the commensurate amount of storage to firm it?  What is the capital cost in your estimate?

Gary Hilberg's picture
Gary Hilberg on Sep 19, 2019 2:38 pm GMT

Interesting that the assumption is 2-3 cents per KWH where in the OECD countries like Germany who is all in anti-fossil fuels and nuclear the electricity rates are 35 cents per KWH - so that blows up the assumption of massive saving from wind.  The commentator forgot that geneation costs are not delivered costs - with intermitant energy generation we not only need the standard grid but a tremendous amount of back up generation.  

GEORGE WAYNE's picture
GEORGE WAYNE on Sep 22, 2019 11:48 pm GMT

Gary, agree, but it is really comparing delivered cost based on the cost  for the equivalent level of performance.  Wind or Solar by themselves cannot achieve the "equivalent level of performance" since these generation technologies are non-dispatchable, you have to pair them with something ... like and ESS.  However, that drives up the capital and operating cost, not to mention the cost of land you have to acquire.

Bob Wallace's picture
Bob Wallace on Sep 24, 2019 6:38 pm GMT

Gary, the cost of new wind and solar, unsubsizied, was about $0.05/kWh in 2017 and has fallen.  It will continue to fall.  

Germany has high retail electricity costs for a variety of reasons.  Let's break them down using 2017 numbers.

Cost of generation, the cost of electriciy, was 5.63 euro cents.  That's the cost of a mixture of coal, nuclear, gas, wind, and solar generation.  As coal and gas drop off Germany't grid their cost of generation will drop.  And as more cheap wind and solar are added the more expensive earlier wind/solar will play a smaller role.

Cost of distribution was high at 7.48 euro cents.  This is largely due to additions to the grid needed for moving wind and solar onto the grid.  These are shortterm costs with very long payoffs.  

The RE surcharge was 6.88 euro cents.  Germany did a very big favor for the rest of the world and created a very successful subsidty (feed in tariff/FiT) program which created a very large market for solar panels and helped created the scale needed to rapidly bring down the cost of electricity.  

Over time the FiT has been lowered to where it now is about the level of the price of electricity which means it's bascially phased out.  The most expensive FiT contracts reach their end in the next few months and at that point German's RE surcharges will start a fairly rapid decline.

There are an additional 9.17 euro cent taxes and fees on top of the cost of generating and distrubuting electricity and subsidizing renewables.  A large hunk of that 9+ cents is a sales tax which has nothing to do with the cost of providing electricity.

Interestingly, Germany (and Denmark) with all their renewable generation have lower wholesale electricity than does nuclear-heavy France.

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is a strong list of energy related opportunities that are cost reduction tools and ... the good news they help us to set up a better world, environmentally speaking.

Energy efficiency, demand response, bring your own device, non wire alternatives are already there, available. So by capturing these potential opportunities we will be automatically crafting a better world, with less emmissions!

It is very simple but not that easy because it depends on the energy users whether residential, commercial, industrial or institutional. 

As far as I can see there is only one known solution to our climate mess.

All of us know it:

Nuclear.

However I am afraid it is too late.

There may be another possibility: Probably some foolish thinking.

Still have a look at https://wp.me/s1RKWc-4r https://wp.me/s1RKWc-4r

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Sep 17, 2019 10:18 pm GMT

If nuclear is the solution, what's the pathway (economically, politically, technologically) to get there in your opinion?

My answer comes from a different perspective, sort of inside out. It involves the Utility companies converting their traditional loads into supply and storage. This will serve two purposes: take away the threat to the utility companies and empower them to use thier resources dramatically reduce the carbon footprint. So here is how it works:

1) Buildings are converted to energy generating (renewables and fuel cell), storing, and distributing facility with safe and smart direct current technologies.

2) The Utility companies underwrite the infrastructure upgrades to these building along with the decentralized battery storage, and have ownership of equipment and client. 

3) All buildings in a community or city become components of of the Utility grid, dramatically reducing the strain on power generation, and reducing the massive loses in the power delivery systems.

Everyone is a winner:

A) The Utility company is the hero, and gets to keep their clients

B) The client has their electrical system modernized, more effeceint, and lower cost of energy

C) The envirnment...cleaner energy, less power generation, lower carbon footprint.

This can all be scaled in a very short period of time.

Andy Peck, LumaNEXT

 

1. Electrify transportation.

2. Electrify heating.

3. Continue greening electricity with nuclear and natural gas.

4. Carbon sequestration.

5. Relax.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Sep 17, 2019 10:19 pm GMT

I'd find it a lot easier to embrace step 5 if I was confident we had the political capital to get steps 1-4 completed. Do you think we're on the right pathway in that respect, Rand?

Bob Wallace's picture
Bob Wallace on Sep 18, 2019 6:13 am GMT

1.  We seem to have started on electrifying transportation.  Battery prices are continuing to drop and lower battery prices should make it easy to move away from oil.  We just need to get EV purchase prices down a bit.  And bring out robotaxis.

 

2.  We can electrify heat.  We may need something like a price on carbon to get people to switch over.

 

3.  Natural gas is not green, just a lighter shade of black than coal.  And why did you suggest only the most expensive low carbon electricity source?  If we ask people to pay more for electricity in order to get off coal and NG we're likely to encounter a lot of resistance.  Cheaper is the way to go.

 

4.  When someone figures out to affordably capture carbon and safely store it away from thousands of years let us know.

 

5.  Too early.  Far too early to relax.

I love this question.  And, I think it depends.  You need to know your audience.  There are many energy executives that are happy to have a conversation around climate change and the impact of fossil fuels on our environment.  Some not so much.  But, the good news is that there are 3 reasons why our industry's transition to a clean energy economy are compelling for energy leaders and the brightest minds:

  1. Climate change - whether you believe the science or whether you believe that God expects us to take care of our planet and our children, the fact is that most people (70% in a recent poll) do believe in one or the other.  And, when you recognize that 26% of carbon emissions come from the energy industry's burning of fossil fuels (another 26% is from transportation), the energy industry is a target for change by politicians, climate change activists, and our children.
  2. Economics - ok, so you don't have to believe in climate change.  I happen to personally be very frightened of the path we are on, but I don't begrudge anyone their own perspective or beliefs.  But, if we look at Lazard's levelized costs of generation, grid-scale wind generation is the cheapest followed by solar PV.  Natural gas powered generation is a distant third place, so the sheer economics of clean energy generation should compel non-believers to recognize the competitive need to be involved in these technologies.
  3. Technological change - change is happening faster than ever in history.  Ray Kurtzweil’s concept of “Singularity” predicts that by 2029 the artificial intelligence of machines will match that of humans.  There are financial benefits to driving and meeting the increasing expectations of technology’s ultimate consumers.  Our industry is ripe for disruption and technology companies recognize the enormous economic opportunities the energy industry has to offer.  The rapid adoption of DER and (soon) electric vehicles requires fundamentally different business models, technological strategies, and embracing what the public wants - renewables, energy storage, electric vehicles, and a clean energy economy.  No one wants to be a dinosaur.

Anyway, I love the question, Rami.  I saw something Doug Houseman posted the other day about him not using the word "climate" in conversations.  I think he is right about that in some situations.  I also think that the recognition of climate change is gaining traction and that even some of my most ardent friends who argued against it have now come around.  But, whether they believe or not is not something worth arguing about.  Give the non-believers the other reasons for moving to a clean energy economy and they will help drive adoption for completely different reasons.  But, we're all still on the same side.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Sep 17, 2019 10:23 pm GMT

For those wondering, I believe this might be the quote Stu is talking about from Doug (Stu, correct me if I'm wrong!):

I think we can set aside the term "climate change" within the industry. It is a term that divides rather than unites, in most cases. I would prefer to think of the changes as evolution in generation sources and requirements. Because of the regulatory environment the industry operates in, it will be regulation that drives the changes in the industry. Mandates already exist in California and Hawaii for massive amounts of renewable generation within the current industry planning horizon. Many more states are working on mandates, but most of the states have renewable portfolio standards that require significant amounts of either capacity or energy based on renewable generation.

Stuart McCafferty's picture
Stuart McCafferty on Sep 18, 2019 2:26 pm GMT

That's the one.  I like what Doug said here.

Green Swans are highly improbable innovations that can replace fossil fuels much faster. For example, water has become a powerful fuel that can soon easily and cheaply replace gas and diesel to run engines. And it can be taken from the air, ending any need to refuel. Vehicles running on water can be power plants when parked. Millions of them may replace coal, natural gas and nuclear power. See more at aesopinstitute.org

On the same site read a White Paper about engines that need no fuel. Seemingly impossible, fuel-free engines will run 24/7 - providing a hard to believe alternative to intermittent wind and solar farms. The new science challenges dogmatic acceptance of The Second Law of Thermodynamics with substantial evidence which has been presented at meetings of the AAAS without refutation.

Water fueled cars and fuel free engines will open minds to additional unsuspected positive paths!

People are so focused on carbon as the problem, that they miss the bigger picture. First, there's no mention of 'refrigerant management.' Old refrigerant gases (i.e. CFC-12) are major contributors to global warming, per molecule they're thousands of times more powerful. China has been found to violate the production ban of CFC-12, which should be addressed immediately by the UN, and in all trade talks. Per the nonprofit research group Drawdown, this step "would help prevent as much as 90 gigatons of carbon dioxide <equivalent> from getting to the atmosphere. This is equivalent to more than 17 years' worth of CO2 emissions in the United States." There's also no mention of non-carbon global warming gases such as N2O, which is 296X worse than CO2, and is released by fertilizer. 3% of all fertilizer goes into the air as N2O. So guess what? Growing feedstock for biofuel, grown on over 100 million U.S. acres, requires significant fertilizer, and increases the total GW effect. Growing biofuel feedstock further leads to more nitrate runoff, which acidifies and deoxygenates coastal waters. Third, no mention was made of carbon soot emitted by inefficient burning of coal, dung (as in India), and wood fires. It is soot that changes the albedo of ice fields, glaciers, and snow cover, causing more solar absorption and faster melting. While US coal burning facilities have particulate scrubbers, its doubtful that China and others do to any significant effect. Put it in the trade talks. Thus, progressive climate policy is directed solely at US industry and consumers, and ignores our trading partners.    https://www.drawdown.org/solutions/materials/refrigerant-management

Randy Dutton's picture
Randy Dutton on Sep 17, 2019 10:49 pm GMT

China Emitting Large Amounts Of Banned Greenhouse Gas: This Is How CFC Destroys The Ozone Layer <and contributes to Global Warming>

https://www.techtimes.com/articles/243725/20190525/china-emitting-large-amounts-of-banned-greenhouse-gas-this-is-how-cfc-destroys-the-ozone-layer.htm

25 May 2019, 7:20 am EDT By Ted Ranosa Tech Times

...the researchers found that CFC-11 levels in the Chinese region have increased by as much as 7,000 tons per year since 2013.

Environment experts are concerned that such high levels of carbon emissions could exacerbate the deterioration of the ozone, which has already shown signs of recovery after decades of damaging. These could also worsen the impact of climate change on global temperatures....

All of us agree there is something wrong in the realm of energy that we are outsourcing. So we are here to have a look at this right energy. This energy must be compatible with our energy needs just like the fossil fuels are but must be clean, unconditional, free of running costs and endless. This is a hardest part because all clean energy methods we have known do not have all these qualifications. It will require a new perspective on our Mother Nature to create paranormal creations in an uncharted territory in which no humans have ever gone in there. The perspective to open the portal to extricate out of this trap. We are one of a kind creature who were born into the trap and live on within this trap forever. This trap has actually been built by our body structure and our way of life. Human body structure is so tenuous that needs to be protected and pampered. Just the basic needs of life, humans' are much more sophisticated than any other creatures'. Further more, humans create needs more than the basic needs and achieve the endeavors to satiate those needs by outsourcing energy from natural resources. The resources that we know we can get by with their abundance but they will be depleted eventually and we have nothing to live on. 
     The energy for our needs has to be prompt whenever we make a call and has to be active as long as we need. For instance, electricity to run the house. This type of electricity is the Alternate Current(AC). The most efficient current that we have discovered and ushered into our lives. Thus we can cherish all the festivities that life has to offer. This current comes to the houses through the ramification of power lines called grid. This electric current makes us happy because of its efficiency if and only if the power plant maintains the certain pressure on the grid by burning fossil fuels every minute around the clock. The same thing happens to other types of energy such as
the natural gas for homes and crude oil for transportation. The compatibility that they give us is the reason to fall into this trap inevitably and absolutely no way out if we go on living the way we are doing now.
     That is enough for the glum side. Let's ponder over our Mother Nature on the glee because she actually has it. The one that will open the portal for us to break free from this entrapment to total freedom. She is so exceptional. A sumptuous gift bestowed from heaven to all living organisms. She is not a dead planet full of dirt and rocks.
On the contrary, she is very well alive, powerful and shrewd.
     The distance from her position to the Sun is very supportive to lives. That is her advantage at the start. But that's not all, she maneuvers all she has got to create the conditions that allow organisms to evolve from stem cells. She slants her axis at a fixed angle to the Sun radiation while orbiting around the Sun with her axis leaning
toward only one direction and also revolving around herself allowing all her parts to receive the radiation so living organisms can burgeon around her. She seems to understand how important the photosynthesis is to the food chain from the bottom up, grass on the ground for terrestrial animals, plankton in waters for aquatic animals. So there is food available for every living organism around her. Moreover, she knows all living creatures need the period of time to sleep in order to grow. That is why all her movements are in steady pattern creating day and night which is necessary for living tissue to grow. But food and resting are not enough for lives to exist. They also need oxygen for the metabolic process. So she provides air which is a mixture of 21% oxygen and 78% nitrogen. She knows air breathers need oxygen but too much of it will do more harm than good. So she picks one inert gas to dilute the air keeping oxygen at the low proportion. She really knows what she is doing. Many other inert gases can be the dilutors but she picks nitrogen which is not just a dilutor it is also a component of all proteins, making it essential for all living tissues. She is the only one in the whole universe who has water in the liquid state at the atmospheric temperatures which is very crucial to the existence of life and becoming an important part of these paranormal creations. What about time in our lives, is it important? of course, the answer is "yes". We organize our lives and interaction with others keeping our lives in control. Who makes the time that we all agree on and make use of it.
It's Mother Nature's power to make all movements so consistent until we can scale into second, minute, so on and apply to our living activities.
     Mother Nature has proven her prowess to create and nurture living organisms successfully. She has spent millions of years attuning these successful maneuvers. She has actually procured everything for everyone. Even us who have to outsource energy for our own causes. We take her stuff the most comparing with other creatures. The stuff that wasn't meant to be our source of energy to begin with. As a matter of fact, she offers the right source of energy from her most reliably powerful forces, gravity and buoyancy. Additionally, with all her elements such as land, air and water in which can be a platform for comprising unique gadgets to render the righteous and endless energy for us. The one that is being able to deliver the compatibility and reliability just like we are getting from fossil fuels. This energy is also free of running costs no matter how much has been used. This is when we are not only being able to completely extricate ourselves from this entrapment for good but also being able to reciprocate her for what she has done to keep all of us alive and well on her facilities. Instead of the wrong things that we are taking from her every single day. We already owed her big time for her effort to keep equilibrium in our lives.

I don't mind the US being a leader in this regard, but not a loss leader. We can do our share, innovate, but not at the determinant to our citizens and economy. US is only 10% of GHG, other nations need to step up and make it a priority.

Bob Wallace's picture
Bob Wallace on Sep 18, 2019 6:18 am GMT

The US has a very high per capita rate of CO2 emissions.  We are contributing more per person to the problem than most of the other people on the globe.

If we got really busy and started making major cuts in our CO2 emissions we wouldn't be leading.  We'd be catching up.

 

GEORGE WAYNE's picture
GEORGE WAYNE on Sep 19, 2019 2:41 am GMT

So ... we should strive to catch up to India or any of the other less than developed countries?  Per capita emissions is a metric that helps put things into perspective, but the atomosphere only cares about total emissions not per unit emissions (e.g. per capita emissions).  The US could drive our emsssions to zero and it still wouldnt matter unless other countries also make it a priority.

The US has the highest GDP per capita, that is what other countries are chasing, a better life and standard of living.  That goes hand in hand with more energy consumption and unfortunatley emissions. 

Yes, I believe the US can help lead in the effort to develop methods to lower energy intensity, through conservation, energy efficiency, and technology. 

But at the end of the day, you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink.

I have two questions that may aid finding an answer.  I'll put them in separate posts.

First.  Are utilities thinking about losing market to end-user solar and storage?  As the cost of solar panels and storage drops we're at the point where it makes sense for some customers to produce a portion of their own electricity and even store some for after sundown use.  If grid prices are high then there's a good chance of people 'cooking their own'.

Tesla has just started a program which allows people to rent a solar system for less monthly than they'd spend for electricity in many markets.  A simple monthly payment and if they decide they don't want the system any longer Tesla will remove the system and patch the roof.

Tesla is also offering inexpensive solar packages.  They've managed to create lower cost installed packages because they've standardized package sizes and reduced their customer acquisition costs.  

Do utility managers realize that the need to be working to eliminate their more expensive generators and installing less expensive wind and solar in order to make installing solar less attractive to customers?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is the industry talking about overbuilding wind and solar for normal demand and then finding markets for the electricity that would otherwise be curtailed?

Cars spend over 90%, perhaps 96%, of their time parked.  If plugged in while parked EV charging could be a very large dispatchable load.  E-Vs need, on average, about three hours of charging on a 240 vac line.  On average EVs could be plugged in and waiting for a charge 22 hours a day,  Lots of flexibility in three out of twenty-two.

Utilities could offer special rates to EV users who would allow the grid to determine the exact time of charging.  When one plugged in their EV a 'buy' order would be sent to the grid.  The car needs X amount of charge, minimum.  And needs to reach that charge state by Y hour.  

Then the grid could start and stop charging depending on the times when the most 'extra' power would be available.  Charging times could be staggered in order to avoid 'clumping' which is likely to happen with TOU pricing.

On days of low wind/solar input many EVs, if well charged ahead of time, could skip one or more days of charging and let the grid avoid seeking more expensive sources. 

Wind and solar are on their way to $0.02/kWh.  Overbuilding 2x would mean increasing the cost of electricity used to $0.04.  Selling half of that overbuild to EV batteries and other dispatchable loads would drop the cost of electricity back down to $0.03.

 

 

 

 

For many climate activists, the only acceptable answer to the problem of carbon emissions can be summarized as "leave it in the ground". The "It" being fossil carbon. That answer is unrealistic. Insisting on it is counterproductive.

A better answer would be "Use it, but put it back". That's actually realistic, and has a chance of succeeding. It implies CCS.

There are two problems with "leave it in the ground" as a strategy. They both boil down to "not gonna happen", but for different reasons. The first is the sheer magnitude of our dependence on fossil fuels, and the time it will take, even under the most positive scenario, to wean ourselves away from it. It takes decades to transform an energy economy. It doesn't matter whether one's preferred option for a decarbonized energy economy is renewables + storage, nuclear power, new and advanced geothermal, biofuels, energy efficiency and conservation, or whatever. Well before we can get there, we will burn enough carbon to blow through our budget for limiting global warming to 1.5oC. We're pretty close to that already; it's very unlikely we could get to net zero carbon emissions in time to avoid blowing through the 2.0oC budget.

The second reason it won't happen, to put it bluntly, is that it won't be allowed to. Those who collectively stand to lose multiple trillions of dollars should "leave it in the ground" somehow prevail will defend their interests. They're well equipped to do so. They command ample PR and lobbying resources to succeed. They've been defending successfully for the past 30 years without raising a sweat. There's no reason to believe that their understanding of human nature and ability of their hired professionals to steer public opinion aand policy will suddenly desert them. All they have to do is to sow doubt about climate science and prevent adoption of the only policy that would seriously threaten their assets: a realistic price on carbon emissions that would capture the external costs of dumping it into the atmosphere.

The ancient Chinese military sage and imperial counselor Sun Tsu was adamant about the need to formulate strategy around clearly defined goals. In The Art of War, he famously teaches that one should always leave one's opponents an avenue of retreat. Opponents with no avenue of retreat have nothing to lose and fight fiercely. Climate activists who insist on "leave it in the ground" as the only acceptable strategy muddy the end goal of curtailing emissions of CO2 into the atmosphere with curtailing the use of fossil fuels. They're not the same. The latter is one way to achieve the former, but it is not the only way. Failure to recognize that commits the loosely organized volunteer activist forces to battle against well funded PR professionals who have them thoroughly outgunned.

In that situation, it's reckless folly to charge ahead and hope for the best. That doesn't mean giving up; it means reexamining the terrain, looking for an approach that can achieve the end goal without fighting a battle against opponents who can easily defeat you.

CCS offers such an approach. It's non-threatening to fossil fuel interests. Their assets retain short term value as energy resources while we -- and they -- go about building long term replacements. If we support CCS, it removes their need to cast doubt on climate science and defeat pricing of carbon emissions. It makes allies of at least some companies. A price on carbon emissions would have no net effect on use of fossil fuels when the CO2 stream is sequestered. And credits for sequestration would fund expansion of oil and gas businesses in a natural direction. Who better to deal with building CO2 pipelines and drilling CO2 injection wells into deep saline aquifers?

The program hinges on steam reforming of natural gas and light hydrocarbons into separate streams of hydrogen and nearly pure "pipeline ready" CO2. The hydrogen produced can power cheap and efficient fuel cell based power plant for flexible backing of intermittent renewables. Hydrogen can be stored in sufficient volumes to provide power through extended periods of low output from wind and solar facilities.

Most importantly, perhaps, most of the infrastructure built to support a hydrogen economy for clean power is agnostic as to the source of the hydrogen. In the early stages, hydrogen from steam reforming of fossil fuels would dominate, but it could easily be replaced by hydrogen from water electrolysis using surplus renewable energy. Or from surplus nuclear energy, if that path should work out. The flexible power from fuel hydrogen fuel cells would be equally valuable for load following atop baseload power generation or for backing intermittent renewables.

Once depletion begins to make fossil fuels too costly to produce -- which it inevitably will -- the sequestration infrastructure can still be used to dispose of CO2 from combustion of biomass or captured from the air. That will get us into negative carbon emissions territory. We'll almost certainly need that to counter rising natural emissions that the warming we've already created will bring about.

 

My response focuses on this part of the question "How can we align the leadership of the global energy industry to" [do anything]. Whether its climate change, clean air and water or anything else for that matter. The short answer is "proper, enforceable policy" with appropriate incentives to achieve the desired outcome, which the majority of stakeholders support.

Authorities in government and leaders in industry need to start the process with the following objectives in mind:

  • Agree on a specific problem that needs to be addressed. Personally I think climate change is too nebulous - something more specific would help, e.g. removal of CO2 from the atmosphere, or removal of XYZ from the atmosphere. 
  • Commission a formally recognized Standards body, that employs a consensus based process inclusive of all parties with a vested interest to participate in formulating the baseline standard that is intended to achieve the desired outcome.
  • Submit the standards body result (standards proposal) to government regulators and authorities to translate this standard into enforceable law/regulations, ensuring that a "performance based" approach will properly align incentives to achieve the desired outcome.
  • Enforce the laws/regulations such that successes are rewarded and failure is penalized at appropriate levels.
  • Set a realistic timeline to achieve the desired outcome.

I'm not sure we have the "right environment/motivations" in place to embark on this journey, but I will say - I have seen this approach work successfully in the past and I believe it will work again, when conditions are right.

 

 

Existing utility IRP processes and renewable portfolio standards are driving changes within traditional utility business models and approaches.  These changes will help to drive towards the energy industry doing their part in combating climate change, while balancing the needs of customers and the grid in the most cost effective manner. Regulation requires the need for “used and useful” investment, so the pace may be slower than some like but it is a measured approach.

This is good series of questions.  The variety of answers makes it clear that there is not one solution and trying to get a governmental or even worst a multi-governmental mandate to solve the problem will not work.  We need a combination of public and private (mostly here) entities to solve the problem.  The issue is how to levelize the field with all of these inputs. A Carbon Tax could be the basis of this effort.  This would ensure that one very rich location is not spending millions of dollars "eliminating" their last source of emissions while there are other areas where thousands of dollars could be invested for the same improvement in energy efficiency and emissions reduction.  As we know with most implementation plans the first steps normally include the easy and cheap fixes, but many areas are still short electricity and they will not shut down highly polluting facilities due to lack of investment capital.  The one thing we know about this effort is that even if one area is carbon neutral, if another continues to add to their emissions, the overall plant will still have an issue.  Also lets not forget that over a billion people have no/limited access to consistent electricity and over a million die every year due to poor water quality which is driven by the lack of energy to purify water.  

Bob Wallace's picture
Bob Wallace on Sep 24, 2019 6:53 pm GMT

Wind and solar have become so inexpensive that it has become hard for a developing country to commit capital to coal, gas, or nuclear plants and saddle themselves with high electricity costs.  Coal and nuclear mean a long delay before electricity begins to flow.  Coal and gas means a future of fuel purchases.

Wind and solar are cheap and fast.  And their 'fuel' is free.

And wind and solar are not dependent on a well established grid to distribute their power over a large area.  

Many of the billion plus people who live without electricity are removed from the grid and it would be decades, or never, that wires would be strung to their houses and shops.  They are simply too small scale purchasers to allow the grid expansion to pay for itself.

The solution for those living without electricity is, for the most part, micro solar, wind, and hydro.  Several million homes and shops already have micro solar systems installed and they've paid for them with a small weekly fee that is, in most cases, less than what they had been paying for kerosene and candles.  Towns and villages are getting solar arrays, wind turbines, and where possible small hydro systems.  The cost of renewable systems is paid for with savings enjoyed by not having to burn diesel in the local generation plant.

 

 

 

 

The way you align the leadership is to get them to realize that they are not in the carbon business; they are in the energy business.

The whole world (including themselves and most of their employees) know exactly what’s up with atmospheric CO2 and ocean acidification, so knock off the BS.

They have a choice — they can be the heels of history, or the heroes of history. And the heroic path is simply this:

Invest their profits in clean energy technologies, especially nuclear power.

Either that, or resign themselves to having their graves spit on for the next thousand years. (If you can even spit underwater!)

Tap Into The Experience of the Network

One of the great things about our industry is our willingness to share knowledge and experience.

The Energy Central Q&A platform allows you to easily tap into the experience of thousands of your colleagues in utilities.

When you need advice, have a tough problem or just need other viewpoints, post a question. Your question will go out to our network of industry professionals and experts. If it is sensitive, you can post anonymously.