The U.S. Could Get to 90 Percent Clean Power by 2035
By Jeremy Deaton
Experts disagree about how fast the United States can replace coal and gas-fired power plants with zero-carbon electricity. Some say we can shift to 100 percent clean power by 2050 with little friction and minimal cost. Others say that's unrealistically optimistic. Scientists on both sides of the argument agree that it's possible to get to 80 or 90 percent clean power. The debate centers on that last 10 or 20 percent.
Researchers tried to get around this sticking point in a new analysis from UC Berkeley. Instead of asking, "how much?" they asked "how fast?" — specifically, how fast we could get to 90 percent zero-carbon power — meaning wind, solar, hydropower and nuclear power — at no extra cost to consumers. Thanks to rapidly falling costs for wind turbines, solar panels and batteries, the answer is 2035.
"We're spending too much time stressing about the last 10 percent and not enough time thinking about the first 90 percent," said Ric O'Connell, executive director of GridLab, a clean energy consulting firm, and co-author of the report. "So let's focus on the first 90 percent."
When utilities build a new power plant, they pass the cost on to ratepayers. By 2035, ratepayers will have paid off most gas- or coal-fired power plants running today, meaning consumers won't lose money if utilities shut those plants down early. That's what researchers mean by "no extra cost." Ratepayers will be funding new, exclusively carbon-free power plants after they have paid off the old ones. Cutting pollution will help people breathe easier, reducing health care costs, making it cheaper overall to move to shift away from fossil fuels.
By building out wind, solar and battery storage, the authors say, we can take every coal-fired plant offline, as well as a number of gas-fired power plants. We would use the remaining gas-fired power plants to supply electricity when needed. Fossil fuels would only account for 10 percent of the power supply, while nuclear power and hydropower — which generate no carbon pollution— would account for around 20 percent. The remaining 70 percent will come from wind and solar paired with battery storage — meaning 90 percent of our electricity would come from zero-carbon sources.
The cost of renewable energy has fallen precipitously over the past decade, consistently outpacing expert projections. From 2009 to 2019, the cost of wind power fell 70 percent, while the cost of large-scale solar fell close to 90 percent, according to Lazard. From 2010 to 2019, the cost of batteries also dropped close to 90 percent, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The falling costs of batteries is a game changer, because batteries can store power for when the sky is dark and the wind is idle.
"The pace of technology development has typically been underestimated," said Amol Phadke, an energy research scientist at UC Berkeley and lead author of the report. "In my career, all my projections have been conservative." He said that experts have grown more and more optimistic about how fast costs will drop in the years to come.
Every year, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's Annual Technology Baseline (ATB) projects the future cost of wind and solar energy. The graphs above show the projected cost of wind and solar in the best-case scenario. Every year since 2015 the projections have grown more optimistic. Source: UC Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy
Authors considered the fact that Americans are embracing battery-powered cars and buses, which will put added strain on the power grid. They say that utilities can meet the rising demand at the same cost with wind and solar as they would with coal or gas.
None of this is likely to happen, however, without the help of lawmakers. The cost of fossil fuels by and large does not account for the toll they take on human health. To account for this fact, and to help overcome inertia in the energy system, experts call for several measures in an accompanying policy paper, such as a national clean power standard and tax credits for renewable energy.
The graphs above show the power mix in two different scenarios — one, where the lawmakers enact policies, such as a national clean power standard, to push utilities to shift to wind and solar (left), and one where utilities continue to operate as normal (right). Source: UC Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy
The study makes use of the latest models from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and software developer Energy Exemplar. It finds that moving to 90 percent zero-carbon power, a labor-intensive endeavor, could generate upwards of half a million jobs a year, which authors say could help the United States overcome the current economic slump.
The shift to clean power would also be a boon to public health at a time when the country is battling a deadly respiratory disease. The report finds that a shift to 90 percent clean power could save as many as 85,000 lives by 2050 by sparing Americans from toxic pollution. Experts unaffiliated with the study commended the report, including its focus on public health.
"Climate and environmental impacts fall disproportionately on communities of color and low-income communities," Patrick Brown, a researcher at the MIT Energy Initiative, said in an email. "It's always important to be clear about the human cost of fossil energy when it's included in such models, so I was glad to see these costs included."
Mark Jacobson, a professor of environmental engineering at Stanford University, believes the report wasn't ambitious enough, saying, "I am confident their goal can be met, but I think we can go even further." His own research, which has been the subject of vigorous debate, found it would be possible to power the country entirely with wind, solar and hydropower by mid-century.
O'Connell believes that researchers should focus on getting to 90 percent zero-carbon power rather than arguing about the feasibility of reaching 100 percent. Just as scientists 20 years ago couldn't have predicted how cheap wind and solar would be today, scientists today can't predict how much new technologies will cost 15 years from now. He listed several that could get the United States to 100 percent zero-carbon electricity, such as green hydrogen, next-generation nuclear power and home appliances that interact with the electric grid. But, he said, technology has already advanced to the point where the United States can overhaul the power grid right now.
"A lot of the focus has been on 2050," O'Connell said. "We said, 'Let's look at the near-term runway and what we can do in the next 15 years."
Reposted with permission from Nexus Media.
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Wisdom the mōlī, or Laysan albatross, is the oldest wild bird known to science at the age of at least 70. She is also, as of February 1, a new mother.
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Comparing rime ice and glaze ice shows how each changes the texture of the blade. Gao, Liu and Hu, 2021, CC BY-ND
Ice buildup changes air flow around the turbine blade, which can slow it down. The top photos show ice forming after 10 minutes at different temperatures in the Wind Research Tunnel. The lower measurements show airflow separation as ice accumulates. Icing Research Tunnel of Iowa State University, CC BY-ND
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theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
theDOCK team includes (left to right) Michal Hendel-Sufa, Head of Alliances, Noa Schuman, CMO, Nir Gartzman, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, and Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder & Managing Partner. Dudu Koren<p>theDOCK's own portfolio includes companies like Orca AI, which uses an intelligent collision avoidance system to reduce the probability of oil or fuel spills, AiDock, which eliminates the use of paper by automating the customs clearance process, and DockTech, which uses depth "crowdsourcing" data to map riverbeds in real-time and optimize cargo loading, thereby reducing trips and fuel usage while also avoiding groundings.</p><p>"Oceans are a big opportunity primarily because they are just that – big!" theDOCK's Chief Marketing Officer Noa Schuman summarized. "As such, the magnitude of their criticality to the global ecosystem, the magnitude of pollution risk and the steps needed to overcome those challenges – are all huge."</p><p>There is hope that this wave of interest and investment in environmentally-positive maritime technologies will accelerate the blue economy and ESG investing even further, in Israel and beyond.</p>
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