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The Climate Crisis Requires That We Reinvent the Electric Grid

The Climate Crisis Requires That We Reinvent the Electric Grid

The Conversation

IIn 1988,James Hansen, scientist Testimony CongressThe planet was being dangerously heated by carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion. Although scientific meetings were held and numerous reports were prepared, national pledges were made. However, fossil fuels are comparatively inexpensive so little concrete action was taken in order to reduce carbon emissions.

Around 2009 saw the first wind turbines and solar photovoltaic cells become affordable enough to compete in electricity markets. More installations resulted in more “Learning curve” cost reductions – the decrease in cost with every doubling of deployment. The prices of solar and wind power have dropped by astonishing 72% and 90%, respectively, since 2009. Electricity sources with the lowest prices – although some challenges still exist.

The world is now facing intense heat waves and droughts, as well as wildfires and storms. There was only one way to address the climate crisis: Transform the electric grid to carbon free wind and solar, and convert all other fossil fuel users in transport, buildings, and industry, to electricity.

This is the direction that the U.S. is heading. Early projectionsThe world just finished a record year in renewable electricity growth in 2021. record 33,500 megawattsAccording to BloombergNEF data, there were approximately 1.2 million MW of solar and wind power installed in the United States in 2020. Even Expect faster growth ahead, especially given the Biden administration’s plans to tap High-value offshore wind resources. But will it be? Fast enough?

The Biden administration’s goal is to have a A carbon-free grid by 2030. A recent study has shown that the U.S. will require to Its 2020 growth rate will be nearly tripledBy 2030, the grid will be powered 80 percent by clean energy. (Although it may sound difficult, China installed 120,000 megawatts solar and wind in 2020.

This transition is built on a dramatic shift in the electric network itself.

It is hailed as the “The” The greatest invention of the 20th CenturyOur grid, which is now in its twilight years, was built on fundamental concepts that were valid at the time. The original foundation consisted of a combination large-scale hydropower and base load coal plants that could operate 24 hours a days.

These were added to in 1958 by nuclear power plants. They have been almost continuously operating since then to repay their large capital investment. Solar and wind are different from coal and nuclear. They provide power only when the sun shines on them.

A completely new way to think is required in order to transform the 21st-century grid to be more dependent on variable resources. New sources of flexibility — the ability to keep supply and demand in balance over all time scales — are essential to enable this transition.

There are three main ways to deal with the variability of wind or solar energy. All of these options offer flexibility.

Lithium-ion battery storage is now the predominant method of storing energy. Their costs have plummeted, new storage technologies are being developed.

It is particularly valuable to have expanded transmission. Even when the Northeast is experiencing peak electricity demand in the early evenings, there’s still sun in West. With more transmission, the large wind resources at the center of the country could be utilized to generate more electricity. Send electricity to both coasts. Transmission studies have shown that stronger interconnections among the country’s three power grids are highly beneficial.

In order to clean up the grid, it is possible to make buildings more efficient or control their demand. Buildings74% of U.S. electricity is used. Interconnected devices and equipment with smart meters can reduce and reshape a building’s power use.

Many analysts believe that the U.S. can maintain a reliable power grid at a cost-effective and affordable price. Clean electricity at 80-90 percentIt is possible, but it will be much more difficult to decarbonize the last 10-20%. While short-duration storage, lasting four hours or less, is becoming ubiquitous, we will likely need to provide power during some periods when wind and solar resources are at low levels (what the Germans call dunkelflaute, or “dark doldrums”). Although an expanded national transmission system will help, it will likely still be necessary to store some long-duration power.

There are many options available, including Other battery technologiesAnd green hydrogen.

Flow batteriesThese are some of the promising approaches we are currently working on at the Renewable and Sustainable Energy InstituteThe University of Colorado. A typical design sees liquid electrolyte flow between two storage tanks separated with a membrane. You can scale the tanks to fit your storage needs.

New sources of flexibility — the ability to keep supply and demand in balance over all time scales — are essential to enable this transition.

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Green hydrogenIt can be used as a storage option for very long periods. It is produced by the splitting of water molecules with an electrolyzer using renewable electricity. The hydrogen can be stored underground or in above-ground tanks and either burned in combustion engines or converted to electricity in fuel cell. Green hydrogen is very expensive, but will become more affordable with the advent of green hydrogen. Electrolyzers are now less expensive.

Additionally, new market design and grid operator models are being developed. Community solar gardensFor example, they allow homeowners to buy locally produced solar electricity even though their roofs do not permit for it. MicrogridsThese business models are becoming increasingly common on campus and complexes. They produce electricity locally and can continue operating if the grid is down. The microgrids can be powered by renewable energy or batteries.

Innovative market designs include Time-of use ratesThat encourage electricity use, such charging electric vehicles when there is plenty of renewable electricity. Coordination of expanded balancing areasThe grid draws on wind and variable solar resources from a broad region to provide a smoother overall supply. Improved grid operations Advanced forecasting for solar and windReduce wasted power and lower the need to have costly standby reserve power. Dynamic line ratingGrid operators can transmit more electricity through existing lines when the weather is favorable.

Energy efficiency can transform the power sector, reduce costs, and improve reliability across the economy.

The transition to renewables can be made easier by nuclear power, which is virtually carbon-free. However, new nuclear power plants in the U.S. cost a lot to build, take a long time to build and can prove too expensive to be able to provide reliable variable solar and wind.

Our view is that the urgency of climate changes demands an all-out effort. While a 2035 emission goal is important, it is equally important to determine the U.S.’s emissions reduction path in order to achieve that goal. The No. The No. 1 goal is to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. The world already has the tools necessary to make the grid 80-90 percent carbon-free. Experts are exploring a variety of promising options to achieve the last 10 to 20%.

Charles F. Kutscher is a fellow and senior research associate at the Renewable & Sustainable Energy Institute at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Jeffrey Logan is the associate director of energy policy and analysis at the Renewable & Sustainable Energy Institute at the University of Colorado Boulder.

This article has been republished from The ConversationUnder Creative Commons license Please read the Original article.

The Conversation

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