A zero-grid future requires a portfolio of new zero-carbon technologies, say panelists

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Posted on September 22, 2021 by Kim Riley

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Investor-owned utilities (IOUs) are committed to achieving net-zero or zero greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century and are developing, investing, and integrating new technologies to meet their emissions reduction goals. emissions, including next-generation nuclear power, carbon capture and long-life battery storage, among others.

These technologies will also help them build a low-carbon economy, according to panelists during the “Carbonless Technologies Needed for a Grid-Free Future” session, which opened the National Energy Week Policymakers Symposium on Tuesday. Clean Energy 2021 to be held online September 21-23.

Work in the energy sector to bring these emerging technologies to market is well underway.

Currently, carbon emissions from the U.S. electric sector are at a 40-year low and will continue to decline, said panel moderator Emily Fisher, general counsel and senior vice president of clean energy at Edison Electric. Institute (EEI), which represents all IOUs in the United States.

“By the end of 2020, the electricity sector as a whole had reduced emissions by 40% from 2005 levels,” Fisher said, “and 40% of all electricity delivered to customers in the year The latter came from zero-emission resources, including nuclear power and solar-powered hydro.

Fisher said such reductions have been achieved using a range of tools, chief among them the removal of more than a third of the sector’s coal-fired plant fleet, increased use of natural gas and the increasing use of renewable resources to generate electricity.

“In my mind, I always think of this as the decade of deploying even more renewable energy and, of course, storage,” said Fisher, who led the panel’s discussion on the state of the companies in the industry. electricity in their clean energy journeys and on the technologies needed to achieve deep emission reductions.

So far, for example, more than 30 IEE member companies have committed to achieving zero or net zero emissions and renewable energy generation will play an important role in achieving those goals, Fisher said.

“The sector has seen tremendous growth in its ability to integrate even higher levels of variable renewable resources and maintain electricity reliability for customers,” Fisher added. “But to achieve zero or net zero, we will continue to need what we call distributable carbon-free resources or technologies.”

Dispatchable means these resources and technologies can be called upon whenever needed for reliability purposes, she explained. “They’re available 24/7,” she said.

Xcel Energy, the Minneapolis-headquartered gas and electric utility that serves eight Midwestern states, is on that path.

Currently, Xcel is more than halfway to its goal of 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050 and in March filed a resource proposal in Colorado to add more than 5 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy into the state, which will accelerate coal plant retirements, said Jeff Lyng, director of energy and environmental policy at Xcel Energy.

The company’s Colorado plan is part of Xcel’s overall plan announced in December 2018 to reduce GHG emissions by 80% by 2030, with aspirations to be carbon-free by 2050, Lyng said, adding that the The company had also pledged to power 1.5 million electric vehicles on its system by 2030.

“The transport sector is a clear example of how the electricity sector – the electricity grid – will be a pathway to a low-carbon economy,” he said.

Xcel’s Colorado Resource Plan, which was filed in March, will nearly double the amount of wind, solar and battery storage on its system, and calls for a full coal phase-out by 2040. The carbon reductions would be closer to 85%, Lyng said.

This summer, Xcel also filed a resource plan in Minnesota to add nearly 6 GW of wind, solar and battery storage to its system, expand the license for one of its nuclear units and transition the business from coal. in the Midwest by 2030, also achieving an 85% reduction in CO2, he said.

“While we implement these plans, I think it is really important in this conversation to discuss the parallel treatment of carbon-free technologies – the urgent need to develop these technologies as we move to greater amounts of energy renewable on the system,” added Lyng.

Such a process will take time and focus, Lyng said. “I think we really need to keep it in the important and urgent quadrant, if you will, because we’re going to need these technologies in the 2030s to achieve these carbon-free aspirations,” he said.

Lyng, along with EEI’s Fisher and panelists Armond Cohen, Executive Director of the Air Quality Task Force, and David Hart, Senior Fellow at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF ), described their efforts to achieve these goals through their participation in the Carbon-Free Technology Initiative (CFTI).

CFTI is focused on implementing federal policies that can help ensure the commercial availability of affordable, zero-carbon, 24/7 energy technology options by the early 2030s to help the electricity industry to meet its net carbon reduction commitments.

Organizations that have joined EEI and its member companies, ITIF, and the Clean Air Task Force to form and advance the initiative include the Bipartisan Policy Center, the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, ClearPath Action, the Great Plains Institute, the Nuclear Energy Institute, and Third Way.

The initiative, Cohen said, is the result of a simultaneous realization in the power industry and among carbon mitigation advocates that decarbonizing the grid will most likely require a combination of the very cheap solar and wind energy emerging in the markets and “a sort of hardening, always-on, always-on, carbon-free capacity.”

Specifically, the initiative focuses on policy recommendations to advance six key technology areas: advanced wind and solar energy systems; long-term storage and advanced demand efficiency; advanced, distributable and renewable super hot rock deep geothermal energy; carbon-free fuels, such as hydrogen; advanced nuclear energy (fission and fusion); and carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS), Cohen explained.

“These are closest to potential maturity,” he said, adding that it’s more beneficial to focus on a range of technologies rather than just one by taking a portfolio approach to technology development. “We don’t know who will take off; one or all six,” Cohen said.

Hart stressed that while renewables can move the power sector toward a carbon-free future, they cannot take the industry “all the way.”

“There’s a zero gap and we need to start developing solutions like CCUS now,” Hart said, stressing that it’s critical for the federal government to step in because the task isn’t financially feasible for all businesses. .

“We have the ability to spread the risk of these projects,” said Lyng, who suggested, for example, that federal dollars might require state or industry matching.

The CFTI also recommends a tripling of the US Department of Energy’s total spending on research, development, and demonstration of energy sector technologies over the next five years. And the panelists all agreed that the public and private sectors need to work together to scale these technologies. This also includes state and local governments, they said.

“We need a full pipeline of policies that will move these technologies from the public to the private sector,” Hart said.

While each of the emerging technologies holds promise – from solving seasonal storage issues to supporting the nation’s most carbon-intensive industries – panelists also agreed there is a lot of work to be done before one of the technology is commercially available.

Ultimately, the market will decide what’s commercially viable, Lyng said.

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