Is the U.S. Electric Grid Ready for a Renewable Energy Future?
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Several states have solar and wind power goals in mind for the future, but can the grid handle them? That's a question scientists at the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) say must be answered if the nation could significantly replace coal, oil and natural gas with renewables.
Douglas Arent, the executive director of the Joint Institute for Strategic Energy Analysis at NREL, told NPR that "you could meet demand every hour of the year, with up to 80 percent of [power] coming from renewable resources by the middle of the century," but the nation's infrastructure simply isn't ready.
"The grid would have to be much more flexible," Arent said. "The utility model of the future would have to look different. And of course, in the ... economically ideal case, we would build much more transmission."
That need is part of what led to California regulators passing the nation's first energy storage mandate, requiring utilities like PG&E, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric to expand their capacity to store electricity, including solar and wind energy. Those three investor-owned utilities must collectively buy 1.3 gigawatts of energy storage capacity by the end of 2020. That amount is nearly enough to supply 1 million homes with energy.
"The decision lays out an energy storage procurement policy guided by three principles: Optimization of the grid, integration of renewable energy and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions," California Utilities Commissioner Carla Peterman told the San Jose Mercury News.
Meanwhile, Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster, who also sits on the board of grid overseer, the California Independent System Operator, was a little more blunt in describing the problem.
"We are getting to the point where we will have to pay people not to produce power," he told the Los Angeles Times.
Foster said he has been working with other regulators and utility executives to redesign the system, developing mapping and building ideas for networks of electrical lines, solar and plants and backup natural gas plants that can keep the lights on when the weather impacts the flow of renewable energy. They also want to avoid blackouts and better prepare themselves for the grid's unpredictable nature.
The U.S. Department of Energy, which oversees NREL, is using a supercomputer named Peregrine that "does a quadrillion calculations per second to help scientists figure out how to keep the lights on," the Los Angeles Times observed.
While the computing continues, activists, academics, regulators and industry types will continue their own search for answer. Arent said the results of a study he co-wrote with the 80-percent target in mind says the resources are available to reach such a goal. It's just the grid that needs plenty of careful analysis in the coming years.
"What we found was that there were many pathways, and there wasn't a red flag that said it was impossible, at least at the level that we looked at it," he said.
Visit EcoWatch’s RENEWABLES page for more related news on this topic.
- Redwoods are the world's tallest trees.
- Now scientists have discovered they are even bigger than we thought.
- Using laser technology they map the 80-meter giants.
- Trees are a key plank in the fight against climate change.
They are among the largest trees in the world, descendants of forests where dinosaurs roamed.
Pixabay / Simi Luft<p><span>Until recently, measuring these trees meant scaling their 80 meter high trunks with a tape measure. Now, a team of scientists from University College London and the University of Maryland uses advanced laser scanning, to create 3D maps and calculate the total mass.</span></p><p>The results are striking: suggesting the trees <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-73733-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">may be as much as 30% larger than earlier measurements suggested.</a> Part of that could be due to the additional trunks the Redwoods can grow as they age, <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-73733-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a process known as reiteration</a>.</p>
New 3D measurements of large redwood trees for biomass and structure. Nature / UCL<p>Measuring the trees more accurately is important because carbon capture will probably play a key role in the battle against climate change. Forest <a href="https://www.wri.org/blog/2020/09/carbon-sequestration-natural-forest-regrowth" target="_blank">growth could absorb billions of tons</a> of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year.</p><p>"The importance of big trees is widely-recognised in terms of carbon storage, demographics and impact on their surrounding ecosystems," the authors wrote<a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-73733-6" target="_blank"> in the journal Nature</a>. "Unfortunately the importance of big trees is in direct proportion to the difficulty of measuring them."</p><p>Redwoods are so long lived because of their ability to <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-73733-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cope with climate change, resist disease and even survive fire damage</a>, the scientists say. Almost a fifth of their volume may be bark, which helps protect them.</p>
Carbon Capture Champions<p><span>Earlier research by scientists at Humboldt University and the University of Washington found that </span><a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378112716302584" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Redwood forests store almost 2,600 tonnes of carbon per hectare</a><span>, their bark alone containing more carbon than any other neighboring species.</span></p><p>While the importance of trees in fighting climate change is widely accepted, not all species enjoy the same protection as California's coastal Redwoods. In 2019 the world lost the equivalent of <a href="https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/deforestation-and-forest-degradation" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">30 soccer fields of forest cover every minute</a>, due to agricultural expansion, logging and fires, according to The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF).</p>
Pixabay<p>Although <a href="https://c402277.ssl.cf1.rackcdn.com/publications/1420/files/original/Deforestation_fronts_-_drivers_and_responses_in_a_changing_world_-_full_report_%281%29.pdf?1610810475" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the rate of loss is reported to have slowed in recent years</a>, reforesting the world to help stem climate change is a massive task.</p><p><span>That's why the World Economic Forum launched the Trillion Trees Challenge (</span><a href="https://www.1t.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">1t.org</a><span>) and is engaging organizations and individuals across the globe through its </span><a href="https://uplink.weforum.org/uplink/s/uplink-issue/a002o00000vOf09AAC/trillion-trees" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Uplink innovation crowdsourcing platform</a><span> to support the project.</span></p><p>That's backed up by research led by ETH Zurich/Crowther Lab showing there's potential to restore tree coverage across 2.2 billion acres of degraded land.</p><p>"Forests are critical to the health of the planet," according to <a href="https://www.1t.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">1t.org</a>. "They sequester carbon, regulate global temperatures and freshwater flows, recharge groundwater, anchor fertile soil and act as flood barriers."</p><p><em data-redactor-tag="em" data-verified="redactor">Reposted with permission from the </em><span><em data-redactor-tag="em" data-verified="redactor"><a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/03/redwoods-store-more-co2-and-are-more-enormous-than-we-thought/" target="_blank">World Economic Forum</a>.</em></span></p>
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