Zero-carbon grids are set to power the #FutureFaster

By Nigel Topping, CEO of the We Mean Business coalition

“There is no technical or economic barrier to transitioning the entire world to 100 percent clean, renewable energy with a stable electric grid at low cost”.

That’s the conclusion of Mark Z. Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University, who led a recent study in the rollout of renewable energy. It may not seem like a radical idea, however it’s a view that even just a few years ago did not seem plausible and today is being proven on a daily basis.

Thanks to the rapid decline in the cost of producing renewable electricity, coupled with technological advances in the way power grids are operated, zero-carbon grids are becoming a reality and are set to power the #FutureFaster.

Research by the Energy Transitions Commission (ETC) shows that by as early as 2035, it will be feasible in many geographies to build a near-total renewable power system. This is due to both the falling cost of renewable energy production, and the rapid cost reductions now being achieved in technologies such as battery storage. Such competitiveness could be improved further if a wider set of flexibility options, including demand management and better grid integration were deployed, the ETC adds.

Companies are helping to deliver these improvements in grid technologies that will usher in the era of zero-carbon power systems. For example, Siemens is supplying the transformers for a record-breaking high-voltage, direct current line in China, with a length of 3,284 kilometers and a transmission capacity of 12 GW.

Tesla is working with PG&E on a massive 1.1 GWh battery system in California, after the company’s founder Elon Musk famously won his bet to install the world’s biggest battery in South Australia within 100 days. In systems around the world, digitization and ‘virtual power plant’ technologies are helping to unlock ever greater efficiencies.

Various trail-blazing countries are seizing these opportunities and committing to zero-carbon grids within ambitious timeframes. One of the most striking is Costa Rica, which is aiming for carbon-neutrality across its entire economy by 2021 and is already covering all its electricity requirements with 99 percent renewable energy.

Other countries are aggressively ramping up their commitment to renewable power, such as India, which has increased its 2022 renewable energy target by 28 percent to 227 GW, from 175 GW previously. India is now on track to over-achieve its target of 40 percent non-fossil-based power capacity by 2030, including hydro.

The Climate Vulnerable Forum, consisting of more than 30 member countries including Fiji, Colombia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, recently announced their bold vision to achieve 100% domestic renewable energy production as rapidly as possible.

Just last month, California committed to 100 percent zero-carbon electricity by 2045. And over 80 cities in the US, including San Francisco and Atlanta, have committed to 100 percent renewable electricity, with at least six having already successfully switched.

Business backing

One of the key reasons countries, regions and cities are able to push for zero-carbon grids is because they have the backing of leading businesses, who are demanding cleaner energy.

Over 220 influential businesses have already committed to 100 percent renewable electricity, including over 140 companies through the global RE100 initiative, led by The Climate Group in partnership with CDP.

RE100 members, such as global drinks maker Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world’s largest company by market cap, Apple and the world’s largest company by revenue, Walmart, are now creating demand for 180 TWh of renewable electricity annually — more than enough to power New York state. By the end of 2016, 25 of these companies had already reached 100% renewable electricity.

This shift in power demand towards zero-carbon sources is being met by forward-looking power utilities around the world, which are increasing their renewable energy capacity and rapidly decarbonizing the power system.

Eight power companies, including NRG in the US, Portugal’s EDP and Enel in Italy, already have approved science-based targets to reduce their emissions in line with the ambitions of the Paris Agreement, while 11 others have committed to do so, such as China Light and Power.

Last year Spain’s Iberdrola confirmed it would complete the process of phasing out all its coal-fired power generation capacity worldwide. The company has now become a global leader in onshore wind while bringing down its emissions to 70% below its European peers.

Ørsted, the largest utility in Denmark formerly known as Dong Energy (short for Danish Oil and Natural Gas), transformed its entire business model to become a clean energy company — shifting its supply from coal and oil to clean sources like wind. In Denmark alone, Ørsted accounts for more than half of the entire country’s CO2 reduction since 2006 — helping the country to achieve its Paris commitments.

Meanwhile, the European power utility industry body, Eurelectric, committedto making the region’s power generation carbon neutral “well before 2050”, with the heads of three major energy companies — Italy’s Enel, Sweden’s Vattenfall and Britain’s SSE — outlining the long-term decarbonization vision in Brussels.

This bold action from governments and businesses alike shows that not only are zero-carbon power grids feasible in theory, but they are rapidly becoming a reality, transforming the energy system and helping to build a better #FutureFaster.

Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) Countries Forging Ahead with Implementing the Marrakech Vision on 100% Renewable Energy


For Immediate Release

Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) Countries Forging Ahead with Implementing the Marrakech Vision on 100% Renewable Energy

New York, 17 July 2018: Today, two years after the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) shook the work by announcing a bold vision to achieve ‘100% domestic renewable energy production as rapidly as possible while working to end energy poverty and protect water and food security,’ the Forum under the Presidency of Ethiopia and in collaboration with the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL) and Climate Action Network (CAN) is bringing that vision to life by convening the first CVF Energy Dialogue focussed on implementation of the 100% renewable energy vision.

Attended by more than 30 members of the Forum and various partners who are in support to the CVF long-term vision, the Dialogue is being held alongside the United Nations High-Level Political Forum (UNHPLF) currently underway in New York. It aims to mobilize the necessary technical capacity, resources and partnerships to complete the energy transition. The discussions are focussing on taking stock of the current situation and considering how CVF members may progress the renewable energy agenda together.

In 2018 the UNHLPF is considering progress on Sustainable Development Goal 7, notably to “ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.” This is of particular relevance to CVF countries where access to modern energy services is an enormous challenge despite it being the backbone of development and prosperity (UNDP 2009). As renewables become cheaper, there is a unique opportunity for CVF countries to transform their energy systems and reap the fruits of the various co-benefits that renewables provide in terms of economic growth, jobs and health. In transitioning to renewables, CVF countries would immediately benefit from modern energy access, socio-economic gains, combating climate change and building resilient societies.

According to UNDP, the International Energy Agency and other international organizations, 1.1 billion people are still without electricity and 2.8 billion currently suffer from lack of access to clean cooking facilities.


Ethiopia Environment, Forest and Climate Change Minister the Hon. Dr Gemedo Dalle

“We are extremely excited about this decisive moment. It proves that we are adamant to concretize what we promised two years ago and we hope that other countries will be at least faithful to what they committed to in Paris in 2015. We are doing this to save ourselves but also to prove that transitioning to 100% renewable energy is feasible and beneficial. We are also moving forward with the right partners so we are sure to win on all levels. Ethiopia has prioritized the 100% RE vision during its chairmanship of the CVF, and we commit to continue prioritizing this vision through our engagement in the Forum.”

Ethiopia Water Irrigation and Electricity the Hon. Minister Sileshi-Bekele

“This is an important historical milestone for us as we move into materializing the Marrakech vision on 100% renewables. We strongly believe that 100% renewables are our only hope to build resilient societies and fight climate change while at the same time develop soundly and steadily. We believe also that with the right partnerships this leap of faith will be successful and provide an unbeatable paradigm that will build the necessary confidence in renewables that will allow others to rapidly follow suit.”

HE Ms. Amatlain Elizabeth Kabua, Permanent Representative of the Marshall Islands to the UN

“We support the goal of this meeting – to take stock of the current situation and discuss, with partners here today, how to proceed.  At the UNFCCC in Marrakech nearly two years ago, the CVF committed to strive to meet a goal of 100 percent domestic renewable energy production as soon as possible, while also working on other policy goals, such as ending poverty.  Also, as very vulnerable countries, we also have a dual challenge – to boost renewable energy and also work towards climate resilience.

A major political driver behind this energy commitment is also to try to encourage the efforts of larger nations who are not in the CVF – to not just say it but do it – and to send a message that “if we can do it, so can you”.  But to be successful, our discussion must go beyond words. Today we want to focus on action, to “walk the walk” and not just “talk the talk”.

Adnan Amin, Director General, IRENA:

“CVF Vision 2050 provides a compass for a prosperous and resilient future for its members, powered by indigenous renewable energy sources which provide an immense opportunity to leapfrog to a sustainable energy future, while unlocking substantial socioeconomic benefits and meeting long term climate objectives.  We applaud Ethiopia for making renewables a high priority in its leadership of CVF and look forward to working with the incoming chair, the Marshall Islands and the CVF members, as well as other like-minded partners, to support this remarkable initiative.”

Rachel Kyte, CEO and Special Representative to the United Nations Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All:

“CVF member countries face the dual challenge of undergoing a renewable energy transition that is also climate resilient in light of increasing occurrence of the devastating effects of climate change. We commend these countries for their leadership and providing an example all countries must follow as a global community to achieve sustainable energy for all.”

Wael Hmaidan, Executive Director, Climate Action Network:

“There is a consensus among all key businesses, cities and other non-state actors that 100% renewable energy is a must to tackle climate change. We are all ready to support  CVF countries in their pursuit of this vision in these crucial times where climate change impacts are deeply felt yet renewable energy is a sure bet to lead us to growth, more jobs and a modern world. We are eager to accompany and see these countries move forward in all areas towards clean, advanced and reliable energy systems and societies as well as prosperous economies and secured access to energy, food and water.”


Notes for editors

Founded in 2009, the Climate Vulnerable Forum is an international cooperation group comprised of 48 developing nations from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America and the Pacific working to tackle global climate change through collaboration on common goals, communications and the sharing of expertise and experience. In August 2018, the Marshall Islands will assume the Chair of the CVF following the tenure of the Ethiopia.


Stanford engineers develop a new method of keeping the lights on if the world turns to 100% clean, renewable energy

Researchers propose three separate ways to avoid blackouts if the world transitions all its energy to electricity or direct heat and provides the energy with 100 percent wind, water and sunlight. The solutions reduce energy requirements, health damage and climate damage.

Renewable energy solutions are often hindered by the inconsistencies of power produced by wind, water and sunlight and the continuously fluctuating demand for energy. New research by Mark Z. Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University, and colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley, and Aalborg University in Denmark finds several solutions to making clean, renewable energy reliable enough to power at least 139 countries.

illustration of solar array, wind turbine and hydrogen storage units

Stanford’s Mark Z. Jacobson says a new study shows that it is possible to transition the entire world to 100 percent clean, renewable energy with a stable electric grid at low cost. (Image credit: Getty Images)

In their paper, published as a manuscript this week in Renewable Energy, the researchers propose three different methods of providing consistent power among all energy sectors – transportation; heating and cooling; industry; and agriculture, forestry and fishing – in 20 world regions encompassing 139 countries after all sectors have been converted to 100 percent clean, renewable energy. Jacobson and colleagues previously developed roadmaps for transitioning 139 countries to 100 percent clean, renewable energy by 2050 with 80 percent of that transition completed by 2030. The present studyexamines ways to keep the grid stable with these roadmaps.

“Based on these results, I can more confidently state that there is no technical or economic barrier to transitioning the entire world to 100 percent clean, renewable energy with a stable electric grid at low cost,” said Jacobson, who is also a senior fellow at the Stanford Precourt Institute for Energy and the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. “This solution would go a long way toward eliminating global warming and the 4 million to 7 million air pollution–related deaths that occur worldwide each year, while also providing energy security.”

The paper builds on a previous 2015 study by Jacobson and colleagues that examined the ability of the grid to stay stable in the 48 contiguous United States. That study only included one scenario for how to achieve the goals. Some criticized that paper for relying too heavily on adding turbines to existing hydroelectric dams – which the group suggested in order to increase peak electricity production without changing the number or size of the dams. The previous paper was also criticized for relying too much on storing excess energy in water, ice and underground rocks. The solutions in the current paper address these criticisms by suggesting several different solutions for stabilizing energy produced with 100 percent clean, renewable sources, including solutions with no added hydropower turbines and no storage in water, ice or rocks.

“Our main result is that there are multiple solutions to the problem,” said Jacobson. “This is important because the greatest barrier to the large-scale implementation of clean renewable energy is people’s perception that it’s too hard to keep the lights on with random wind and solar output.”

Supply and demand

At the heart of this study is the need to match energy supplied by wind, water and solar power and storage with what the researchers predict demand to be in 2050. To do this, they grouped 139 countries – for which they created energy roadmaps in a previous study – into 20 regions based on geographic proximity and some geopolitical concerns. Unlike the previous 139-country study, which matched energy supply with annual-average demand, the present study matches supply and demand in 30-second increments for 5 years (2050-2054) to account for the variability in wind and solar power as well as the variability in demand over hours and seasons.

For the study, the researchers relied on two computational modeling programs. The first program predicted global weather patterns from 2050 to 2054. From this, they further predicted the amount of energy that could be produced from weather-related energy sources like onshore and offshore wind turbines, solar photovoltaics on rooftops and in power plants, concentrated solar power plants and solar thermal plants over time. These types of energy sources are variable and don’t necessarily produce energy when demand is highest.

The group then combined data from the first model with a second model that incorporated energy produced by more stable sources of electricity, like geothermal power plants, tidal and wave devices, and hydroelectric power plants, and of heat, like geothermal reservoirs. The second model also included ways of storing energy when there was excess, such as in electricity, heat, cold and hydrogen storage. Further, the model included predictions of energy demand over time.

With the two models, the group was able to predict both how much energy could be produced through more variable sources of energy, and how well other sources could balance out the fluctuating energy to meet demands.

Avoiding blackouts

Scenarios based on the modeling data avoided blackouts at low cost in all 20 world regions for all five years examined and under three different storage scenarios. One scenario includes heat pumps – which are used in place of combustion-based heaters and coolers – but no hot or cold energy storage; two add no hydropower turbines to existing hydropower dams; and one has no battery storage. The fact that no blackouts occurred under three different scenarios suggests that many possible solutions to grid stability with 100 percent wind, water and solar power are possible, a conclusion that contradicts previous claims that the grid cannot stay stable with such high penetrations of just renewables.

Overall, the researchers found that the cost per unit of energy – including the cost in terms of health, climate and energy – in every scenario was about one quarter what it would be if the world continues on its current energy path. This is largely due to eliminating the health and climate costs of fossil fuels. Also, by reducing water vapor, the wind turbines included in the roadmaps would offset about 3 percent of global warming to date.

Although the cost of producing a unit of energy is similar in the roadmap scenarios and the non-intervention scenario, the researchers found that the roadmaps roughly cut in half the amount of energy needed in the system. So, consumers would actually pay less. The vast amount of these energy savings come from avoiding the energy needed to mine, transport and refine fossil fuels, converting from combustion to direct electricity, and using heat pumps instead of conventional heaters and air conditioners.

“One of the biggest challenges facing energy systems based entirely on clean, zero-emission wind, water and solar power is to match supply and demand with near-perfect reliability at reasonable cost,” said Mark Delucchi, co-author of the paper and a research scientist at the University of California, Berkeley. “Our work shows that this can be accomplished, in almost all countries of the world, with established technologies.”

Working together

Jacobson and his colleagues said that a remaining challenge of implementing their roadmaps is that they require coordination across political boundaries.

“Ideally, you’d have cooperation in deciding where you’re going to put the wind farms, where you’re going to put the solar panels, where you’re going to put the battery storage,” said Jacobson. “The whole system is most efficient when it is planned ahead of time as opposed to done one piece at a time.”

In light of this geopolitical complication, they are also working on smaller roadmaps to help individual towns, many of which have already committed to achieving 100 percent renewable energy.

Additional co-authors of this paper are Mary A. Cameron of Stanford and Brian V. Mathiesen of Aalborg University in Denmark.

“Consumers hate the fact that utilities can control their choice of electricity,” Dan Whitten, SEIA’s vice president of communications, told Utility Dive. Many of SEIA’s members — solar manufacturers, installers and developers — profit from pro-solar and pro-distributed energy policies.

The poll said 88% of voters agreed that utilities should not be able to block residential solar. That margin increased to 96% when asking “opinion leaders,” or voters who self-identified as being college-educated, employed and engaged in public policy news.

“I think utilities are incredibly responsive to their customers and what this survey tells us is that customers want solar.”

Abigail Ross Hopper

President and CEO, SEIA

At stake is the way utilities would reward distributed solar customers for selling the excess energy they generate back to the grid as utilities work to establish a transition from net metering rates. In recent post-net metering debates, some utilities argue that less competitive export rates for rooftop solar do not necessarily reduce solar deployment, especially given certain commitments for utility-scale solar.

The survey is meant to provide data to show “that a high percentage of the people we polled are resentful of the idea that utilities can restrict their options,” Whitten said.

With customer choice debates occurring across the country, more utilities are trying to address their customers’ demands.

However, SEIA president and CEO Abigail Ross Hopper says the more important takeaway is customer support for solar power.

“I think utilities are incredibly responsive to their customers and what this survey tells us is that customers want solar,” Hopper told Utility Dive. “I don’t think customers have a particular care in the world about who owns it or how it gets there, they just want to make sure it happens.”

The survey also highlighted support for a ‘fair’ net metering policy, a 50% renewable portfolio standard for utilities and other consumer attitudes toward the market, as highlighted in the graph below.

Credit: SEIA
Credit: SEIA

The online polling was conducted on 750 registered voters and on 480 opinion leaders. Each survey question asked the voters to identify their approval or disapproval on a scale of 0 to 10, with “5” being neutral.

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