Saturday, August 24, 2019

The Green New Deal: Running the Numbers

The technologies definitely exist to meet our 2030 requirement reaching 60% [renewables] by 2030. We think that we have all the technologies in hand to reach 100% carbon-free or 100% clean by 2045, but it's a little bit less clear what that pathway looks like. And the reason is because when you start talking about really high levels of renewable energy generation technologies on the grid, you need to find ways to store that electricity because it's coming from sources like the wind and sun, so it's not coming 24/7 the way something like stored natural gas is. So, there are some unique technical challenges associated with running a grid with very, very high levels of renewables. We are making a lot of progress on figuring out how to run a grid like that, and we are very confident that by 2045, we will be able to get there. – Laura Wisland, interviewed in Union of Concerned Scientists podcast “Got Science: Clean Energy Momentum: From Goals to Gigawatts.” Accessed August 24, 2019.

The Technical Issues

In other words, the technologies we need to make the Green New Deal work do not yet exist. California can provide about 60% of its electricity via renewables. After that, what is needed is technology that can store energy not just for hours and days but for weeks and months. Currently that technology does not exist. It is hoped that it will be available by 2045. Lacking that technology there is large-scale hydroelectric or nuclear energy. There are not many greenhouse gas neutral electric generation technologies.
Laura Wisland is an expert on and advocate for green power with over a decade’s experience. But she must be politic in what she says. I do not need to be, and ravens are supposed to be harsh-voiced, so I will say it plainly: The Green New Deal is not enough. If we believe otherwise, we are deceiving ourselves and putting our nation and perhaps our world at risk
I wrote the Got Science producers on Twitter, and they wrote back with citations. Wisland herself was quoted: “We ‘think’ we can get to 100% carbon free power, but work continues to identify the most cost-effective pathways. E3 (consultant that runs electricity models for the energy agencies in CA) has done some analysis showing that we can get to about 90% and it's that last 10% that is the hardest to decarbonize. SB 100 (the law that created the 100% clean power goal) provides the state with flexibility to decide whether ultimately the power sector will be completely decarbonized or whether it's better to keep a little bit of carbon (gas) on the system to manage cost and reliability issues.”
A very bad mistake was made in the unequivocal opposition to nuclear power on the part of environmentalists. The nuclear plants were not built. Instead, coal and natural gas plants were built, both directly aggravating global climate change and producing the huge pollution and waste of coal and natural gas production and use. Worse still, this set an example for the developing world, with India and China building energy systems heavily relying on coal. Yet the Sanders Green New Deal proposal has the USA shutting down nuclear power plants before the long-term energy storage technology needed to replace them exists.

The Political Issues

The credibility of environmentalism

What is going to happen to environmentalism when the public realizes that they are in part responsible for putting us into this position? The opposition to nuclear power, all the unfounded rumor-mongering all the lies, it played right to the hands of the fossil fuel industries and brought us to crisis more quickly then had we built those nuclear facilities.
This is not to say that nuclear power does not carry real risks, but these were dramatically overplayed by the environmental opposition to nuclear power. Worse still, no comparison with alternatives was done. Voices in the environmental movement who pointed out that coal was in many ways more environmentally troublesome than nuclear power were not heard.
Climate change is not the only environmental problem. The success of humans on earth depends on the human ability to manage our population and use of resources. If the environmental movement loses credibility in one area, we may lose many voices that defend our world and its ecosystems.

Policy Conclusions

My preference would be to roll forward on the Green New Deal, to continue research into the smart grid and long-term energy storage, and also to restart research into nuclear power generation. This seems to me likely, though, to be a counsel of perfection. I fear we are likely to come up short when it is too late to act, and many people will be left, literally, out in the cold, or perhaps the burning heat.


California Public Utilities Commission. “Proposed Preferred System Portfolio for IRP 2017-18: System Analysis and Production Cost Modeling Results.” California Public Utilities Commission, January 11, 2019.
Herman K. Trabish. “Getting to 100% Zero Emissions in California: Beyond CAISO’s Eight-Solution Menu.” Utility Dive, January 3, 2019.

1 comment:

The Blog Fodder said...

Nuclear energy is clean and is as "safe as human technology can make it" (not comforting in the least, considering Japan built a reactor in a tsunami-prone location and then put the controls in the basement).
There is now, as I understand it, technology to recycle spent fuel rods so they no longer have to be stored someplace "safe".