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Is There a Future for Coal and Gas in a Net-Zero World?

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Nevelyn Black's picture
Writer, Independent

Nevelyn Black is an independent writer with a background in broadcast and a keen interest in renewable energy.  In the last few years, she transitioned from celebrity interviews and film shoots...

  • Member since 2017
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  • Aug 16, 2022

“Are you supporting gas and coal to stay?” How would you answer?  Arshad Mansoor, CEO of the Electric Power Research Institute says, “I’m supporting lights to be on, because if the lights are not on, then this transition will have the most severe setback.”  The clean energy transition is well underway but the experts have concerns about its pace, costs and delays. Out with the old and in with the new, is easier said than done. “Almost every [renewable energy] project is a year delayed [or] nine months delayed, and almost every project has a 15%, 20%, 25% cost-up,” Mansoor said.  In an effort to reach net-zero goals by 2030, he also said it may be “too fast, too deep, too soon."

The majority of utility companies have embraced decarbonization and the switch to clean power generation.  At EPRI’s Electrification 2022 conference in Charlotte, North Carolina this summer, the leaders of largest utilities unanimously agreed to cutting carbon emissions and electrifying transportation. In 2005, Xcel Energy was the first U.S. energy provider to set aggressive goals across all the ways its customers use energy: electricity, heating and transportation.  Recognizing the need to make changes while keeping the lights on Bob Frenzel, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Xcel Energy said, “While we’re focused on meeting our customers’ needs today, our eyes are also on the future—on what value we can deliver in the next one to two decades.”  Committed and leading by example, the utility has added 14 new wind farms and is also the first energy company in the nation to add all-electric bucket trucks to its fleet.  “By adding these clean energy vehicles to our fleet, Xcel Energy is demonstrating its commitment to leading the clean energy transition by becoming a net-zero energy provider for all our customers’ energy needs – electricity, heating and transportation, while also helping shape the electrification of the truck industry, which complements our overall vision to provide 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050.”

Wind, solar and battery storage are already strengthening the grid but hydrogen is quickly taking center stage.  Watching Europe’s progress, Amy Cradic, the chief operating officer of non-utility business, strategy and external affairs at New Jersey Resources, said the company gravitated toward green hydrogen.  “We thought: ‘Let’s help lead the policy. We have the infrastructure, let’s do a proof-of-concept demonstration project,” Cradic said.  “This isn’t new technology, but we’re just starting to talk about it for home heating…We want multiple sources of energy to create that reliability,” she said.  Leading the way in green hydrogen power generation, Cradic said, “We’re the first utility on the East Coast to be blending it — it’s going to our customers’ homes today. We’re really excited about it.”

By and large, the termination of coal generation by utilities is an easy decision.  Renewables are economically a better choice.  However, lingering doubts about the reliability of renewables has saved some coal plants.  Natural gas is also being reserved to meet demand as a backup plan for the grid. "Should a coal plant be operating for 5% of the time for the next 20 years?” Mansoor asked.  “Absolutely,” he stated.  Are utilities prepared to transition to clean energy or will that leave some in the dark? Have unreliable supply chains, new tariffs and lingering doubts about effectiveness delayed progress?



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