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Berkeley study: 90% carbon-free electricity achievable by 2035

Posted on 17 September 2020 by greenman3610

This is a re-post from Yale Climate Connections

Imagine the U.S., over the next 15 years, achieving 90% carbon-free, “clean” electricity.

No need to just imagine, better yet read about it. That’s the conclusion of a new University of California Berkeley study “2035 – The Report: Plummeting Solar, Wind, and Battery Costs Can Accelerate Our Clean Energy Future,” by the university’s Goldman School of Public Policy. The report is featured in the current installment of videographer Peter Sinclair’s “This Is Not Cool” video.

That goal – 90% carbon-free electricity by 2035 – can be achieved without increasing consumer electricity costs “at all,” says Dan Kammen, PhD, of Berkeley. Solar, wind, and storage costs have fallen so significantly, he says, that “even conservative leaders, conservative states, districts, countries can legitimately look at renewables, and actually economically need to look at renewables, as their next purchases.”

Study author Amol Phadke, PhD, says that costs “have dropped so much that renewables have become cost-effective across the country” and no longer solely in particular regions of the U.S.

U.C. Santa Cruz’s Leah Stokes, PhD, says policies are needed to support efforts involving, for instance, energy conservation and commercial building efficiency and residential retrofits

Kammen, Phadke, and Stokes join with consulting firm Energy Innovations Vice President Sonia Aggerwal in arguing that renewables create three times more jobs per investment dollar than fossil fuels.

MacArthur “genius” fellow Saul Griffith, in a clip included in the video, cautions advocates of renewable energy against “demonizing” the fossil fuel industry: “We are getting the fossil fuel industry sort of backed into a corner,” Griffith says in that video. “And honestly, the most people in this country who know how to build infrastructure at scale are in the fossil fuel industry.”

Asked if the U.S. can afford to move to renewables, Nobel Prize economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, PhD, says he is not worried: “Should it be a problem for us to borrow now and service that debt afterwards?” He answers his own question: “The arithmetic says it’s no problem.

“The debt implications – if it’s my top 10 things to worry about – it’s not in that top 10 list.”

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Comments 1 to 11:

  1. Using language such as, "..backed into a corner,..", is interesting because that is generally not a winning formula- for it to be a winning formula the odds need to be considerably overwhelming in ones favour basically forcing a resignation.

    Entrepreneurs don't get out of bed to make peanuts. If there is no pathway for future profiteering then the ideas of capitalism, with its associated captains of industry, itself go to sleep.

    Where is the work involved in an imagined utopia?

    There isn't any... thus we come back to the reality of price points and diminishing returns.

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  2. Let alone complex equations...

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  3. Keithy,

    Your comments do not make sense.

    The video reports that it will be cheaper to build out a renewable energy system that provides 90% of electricity in the USA.  That means people will make money building out the renewable energy system and consumers will pay less for energy.  There will be threee times as many jobs in a renewable energy system that in a fossil system.

    Fossil companies are backed into a corner because their products cost more and cause climate change (along with additional pollution problems).  Since fossil fuel companies are among the largest in the world they are using their political power to keep out cheaper and more profitable renewable energy.  Every year renewables are cheaper which drives more renewable build out.  

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  4. The report does not seem to account for a significant increase in EV usage ... which  is the entire point of decarbonizing the grid, right?

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Here's the url for the report:

    I also embedded the url into the title of the report in the first paragaprh of the OP. 

  5. Papawhisky:

    On page 21 of the report they say:

    "Our modeling approach represents a conservative strategy for
    achieving 90% clean energy. Various complementary approaches
    could help achieve this deep decarbonization, with potential for
    even lower system costs and accelerated emissions reductions.
    Demand-side approaches include demand response and flexible
    loads, such as flexible electric vehicle charging and flexible water
    heating—which could play a large role if building and vehicle
    electrification occurs more rapidly than envisioned in our core
    cases."  My emphasis.

    It appears to me that they have some transportation electrification (I did not try to find out how much transportation electrification they use).  They say this electrification could progress faster and more renewable energy could be accomodated.

    According to Connelly et al 2016, when larger parts of the economy are electrified it allows a greater percentage of electricity to be renewable and less storage is required.  Connelly et al use electromethane for storage which would complement the proposal described in the OP.

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  6. Yes, I had read the report. It's why I posed the question.

    You need to go to the appendix to see their discussion of  "IMPACT OF HIGH ELECTRIFICATION"

    "In our modeled cases, we assume future load shapes will be
    similar to today’s, largely driven by commercial activity (work
    hours), seasonal changes, and especially by air conditioning
    demand in the summer."


    They do a sensitivity in the Appendix on 'High Electrification". Instead of 1200 GW of cumulative new additions to 2035 they forecast a need of just over 1600 GW.


    "Note that we do not consider any load flexibility, which
    significantly underestimates the overall system flexibility
    available in the model."

    I am guessing they did not consider Vehicle to Grid

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    Moderator Response:

    [DB] Shortened and activated link breaking page formatting.

  7. This is a great start towards coming up with a plan rather than just a bumper sticker.

    I don't see debt as a problem; that's merely a way to direct resources in the right direction. But the debt has to be borrowed from somewhere and that diverts limited resources to this project. The cost of doing that has to be considered.

    We can generate about $4.5trillion in capital each year (production - consumption). That investment generates about 10% return, compounded annually to add to our standard of living. That lost opportrunity cost due to the diversion to this plan has to be evaluated in the overall cost. Where does it come from? investments in health care? infrastructure? reduced consumption?.....

    In any case it will have a negative impact on our standard of living. We can afford it, but the people have to undestand the total cost.

    It would be good if they included the details of the "$1.7trillion of injected" funds. That seems a little skinny just eyeballing current capital cost. Also the additional 500,000 jobs each year have to come from somewhere. We have to stop looking at reduced productivity as an advantage.

    So what is going to incentivise the electric utilities to pick up this ball and run with it. They already have the generating capacity at sunk cost. Their upfront investment is $0 to proceed without this plan. Their best finacial strategy is to proceed as now by building renewable plants slowly and let those plants cherry pick when the sun shines and the wind blows.  An order of magnitude cheaper than the 90% clean plan by 2035

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  8. Doug Cannon,

    Did you watch the video?  They clearly state that renewable energy will be easy to install because it is cheaper than fossil fuels.  Your faux concern about debt and $1.7 trillion dollars is simply fossil propaganda.  Yes it seems like $1.7 trillion is a lot of money, but it will cost us $2.5 trillion for fossil energy.  If you count in the climate and pollution costs fossil fuels cost much, much more than renewable energy.

    You are like a teenager who tells their parent "This Toyota Camery costs $20,000.  That is way to expensive.  We will have to buy the Ferrari instead".  

    You cannot examine just the cost of renewable energy.  You must compare the cost of renewable energy to fossil energy.  Renewable energy will be installed by utilities because it is cheaper to build a new renewable energy plant and pay the mortgage than it is to run a fossil fuel plant with no mortgage.  The coal, oil and gas cost money while sun and wind are free.  In addition, after 2035 the now mortgage free renewable energy plants will continue to generate power using free sun and wind so prices in the long term will go down even more.  And renewable energy creates more jobs.

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  9. michael sweet.

    I guess I didn't make myself clear. Of course we have to take into account the costs of global warming.  But we can't lie to ourselves about the fact that decarbonizing will require a huge investment up front.

    Don't just look at the video and its carefully couched claims. Read the report and the NREL references. They show the cost of wind at $25/Mwhr now, dropping to $15/Mwhr by 2035. The cost of solar at $20/Mwhr now, dropping to $13Mwhr by 2035.

    The cost of a new gas utility is $6.26/Mwhr now (U.S. Energy Information Administration {EIA} Annual Energy Outlook 2019 the way, this reference agrees with Berkel;ey's current cost of wind and solar.) These comparison are all based on a 30 year life span. The story would be a lot different comparing to coal, but we're not building coal plants anymore. Renewables just can't compete with natural gas.

    But we have to look beyond that analysis because we're not really talking about expanding our electrical output, we're talking about replacing existing fossil generation with renewables.

    What we're doing today is using wind and solar to partially cut back on using the installed fossil generation when wind and solar are available (about 25% of the time for solar and 35% for wind). The $20-$25/ Mwhr cost for the renewables is offset by the reduction in variable cost for fossil which is about $2/Mwhr for gas and $4/Mwhr for coal. The capital cost for fossil is already sunk cost so we can't save that cost. It's costing us the difference of $20-25 minus $2-4 to reduce CO2 emmisions.

    The Berkeley Report is going a step further and actually replacing 90% of the fossil plants by shutting them down. They recognize that shutting down most of the fossil  results in a need for battery storage, which we avoid with the current "cherry picking" strategy. This is even more expensive than our current strategy. How much is a little vague; they don't breakout the cost of storage.

    I won't even go into the lost opportunity cost resulting from the diversion of resources into such a program. I'll assume we could find the resources and we could live with the reduction in our standard of living. But we have to get over this idea that requiring more manpower to get the same output is a good thing. The logic that this program is good because of more jobs is like saying we should go back to building highways with picks and shovels even though it would cost an order of magnitude more.

    So to get rid of fossil will take a major up front investment. The cost savings from reducing CO2 are well down the road. I doubt you could find a climate scientist to agree we would see any effect this century. But what we do now will help in the centuries to come. CO2/temperature is such a slow, long term issue I wonder if cutting back fossil to 90% in 15 years is any significant advantage over doing it in 30 years as the old fossil plants are retired.

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  10. Doug Cannon:

    Your claims are simply false.  The OP documents that renewable energy will be cheaper to build out than fossil fuels. Since renewable energy is cheaper, utilities that use renewable energy will provide cheaper energy to their customers.

    I cannot locate your numbers in the EIA report you cite.  It appears that you are citing the cost to build renewable energy plants compared to building out fossil fuel plants.  You are not counting the cost of fuel to run the plants.  This is the largest cost for fossil fuel plants.  For renewable energy the wind and sun are free.  Your cost comparison is deliberately misleading.

    This EIA report compares the actual cost of energy from various sources.  That is called the levelized cost of energy.  As described in the OP video, renewable energy with storage is currently comparable to the cost of gas energy.  (renewable energy is already cheaper than coal, nuclear and oil). It is expected that in a few years the renewable costs will decrease and become the cheapest energy.

    I will note that the cost of gas in the USA is substantially cheaper than the world price of gas.  This is due to the availability of cheap fracked gas in the USA.  The fracking industry has never made a profit and has hundreds of billions of dollars in debt that they cannot repay.  This sugests that once investors stop throwing away their money the price of gas will increase in the USA.

    You provide no references to support your wild claims.  You are simply repeating fossil fuel propaganda.  The OP documents that renewable energy is the cheapest way to supply energy today.  Utilities will make more money if they invest in renewable energy than if they build gas plants.  

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  11. Michael Sweet,

    You're right, but unfortunately cost evaluation is becoming as tricky in energy as it has become in health care, because of the crooks liers and cheats infesting the muddy legislative waters. 


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    Moderator Response:

    [DB] Shortened and activated link breaking page formatting.

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