How to Cut Carbon, Ramp up Renewable Energy, and Rebuild the Energy Sector

, , Senior energy analyst | September 30, 2014, 11:29 am EST
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To keep temperatures and sea level rise from ruining cities and lives, we need to rebuild our energy system. When we do this, we need to cut carbon emissions, build in savings, and strengthen energy reliability.

UCS has promoted renewable energy as a mitigation strategy to reduce CO2 emissions, and also heightened awareness and planning needs for climate impacts on the built environment. Electricity generation with renewable energy is a well-known and growing means to meet the vital goal of lowering CO2 emissions. Changes are needed everywhere. Here in New England, we have an over-reliance on natural gas (methane) for fueling electric power, so there is a clear need that planning for our grid must focus on renewable energy.

This meter measures solar energy for sales of credits. credit: M. Jacobs

This meter measures solar energy for sales of credits. credit: M. Jacobs

Rebuild the energy sector?

The Northeast has excellent wind resources, but objections to the construction of wind farms and the transmission that connects us to wind resource has delayed this solution. This keeps us in the fossil-fuel age and blocks our hopes of meeting serious reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. The famous case in this region surrounds the Cape Wind project offshore of Massachusetts, but too many other wind projects have been delayed or cancelled because of objections that the landscape would be changed by the arrival of renewable energy.

The financial community sees this coming

Recent reports by Lazard, Deutsche Bank, Ernst & Young, and Bloomberg New Energy Finance make broad analyses of the financial advantages of wind and solar over conventional power supplies.

Massachusetts, a leading state in climate policy, has set a reduction goal of 25% emissions reduction from 1990 levels by 2020 in the Global Warming Solutions Act and an 80% reduction by 2050.

Burning more natural gas won’t get us there. States need to shift their energy choices to renewables, and reinvigorate their energy efficiency efforts. UCS analysis and recommendations call for reducing power plant emissions by 50% by increasing renewable energy from 6% to 25% nationwide, and by increasing efficiency to displace 10% of energy use.

But what does this mean?

To bring New England to 20% wind, we need a 12-fold increase in wind farm capacity, or a bit less using more productive offshore wind. Grid operator ISO-New England studied wind energy levels of 20% and 24%, and found small, manageable operating impacts. But understand, this is 10,000 MW of wind farms spread around the region (up from 837 MW now), and new transmission lines to replace fossil-fuel burning in every New England state.

We love solar, too

Solar can be another piece of the puzzle. But replacing fossil-fuel plants with solar alone won’t do this. Peak demand in summer presently occurs when solar production is partially reduced by the setting sun, and in winter, demand peaks after sunset.

There are needed and beneficial reforms that states and utilities can make for solar as well. UCS put solar electric generation on our building Cambridge in 1996 and recently published analyses and summaries of the current state of solar power. To improve both grid reliability and lower costs for everyone, we point to the Clean Energy States Alliance recent guide to effective state promotion of rooftop solar, and good sense grid practices waiting for reforms of the standards (IEEE 1547) that limit the functions of solar inverters. ISO-New England and PJM have efforts to make solar inverter capability, already designed and built-in, available for greater grid reliability.

What do we expect from planners and builders?

Rebuilding the energy system will include infrastructure like this. credit: UCS

Climate change means there will be no business as usual. We can take actions to change course, building to use less fossil fuel and sustain society in a harsher climate; or we can see accelerating climate impacts, from droughts to floods.

We expect planners and builders to pursue designs that reduce energy needs. Home builders can include “stretch code” levels of insulation, and solar panels on the roof. Wind and solar companies will have plenty of work and should take care with details to make their projects safe and acceptable. Speed is critical, but deliberate efforts to reduce visual impacts and manage construction cannot be skipped.

Given the need for new electric transmission, we expect development companies and ISOs to make decisions with more sensitivity and broader perspective than has often been used. To help ensure communities and citizens will show a willingness to host new electric transmission, additional criteria for planning should include:

  1. Improve the resilience of the grid
  2. Quicker implementation than we have seen in past
  3. Minimize community and environmental impacts
  4. Increase power grid flexibility and accommodate fossil-fired generator retirements
  5. Lowest lifecycle costs to ratepayers, including costs caused by construction

What should we expect from decision-makers and ourselves?

Individual communities need to be thinking globally and acting locally on energy. There’s need for more efficiency, more solar, and much more open minds in the consideration of wind projects. State regulators and consumers need to find supportable utility company business models in an economy with higher efficiency, active demand-response, and higher use of renewables.

Support for new transmission is part of the deal.

We know that widespread adoption of wind, solar, and energy efficiency can make the difference between a sustainable energy future and an unsustainable future that harms every community. Rebuilding the energy system with greatly reduced CO2 emission requires we change our thinking, our criteria, and our decisions.



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  • Mark G Cooper

    We have the Technology, we are Non Profit and ready to eliminate Carbon Dioxide, for several years, we have had the technology for ICEs, no one cares. We are ready to implement but again, even if we gave it FREE, no one cares. This Planet, all of you and everyone who has tested our technology, will die. I am bitter, to say to least, for 20 years, perfecting our technology, as if the world could care less, in two years, only testing, testing and testing more. The problem here “Is a Failure to Communicate”.
    How, many prototypes, I have built two, with “Zero Detectable Emission” results, meaning 0.0001 grams over a mile, standard is 2.3 gram per mile, when is it enough. In my Scientist eyes, the world of “Caring About Solutions”, would get all the current technologies, group them together, to test and implement but you, your group, want an absolute, solution, well guess what, No One Element is going to solve a Monumental Task, like this. Do any of you have a “Device” which even makes a little difference?

    We have it, we will provide it and we can not for the life of our R&D understand, why you, your group and the entire world, is all “Talk” no action but “More Talk”, I guess accepting a solution and or technology, causes all of you to have to admit, we found the solution first. We are not waving the technology, as if to say “Na Na, we have it but you can not have it with Millions, no we just want to implement, donations and contributions pay for the equipment, the materials for mass implementation, our lodging, the cost of materials and the implementation. Free means no profit but as far as our time, food, lodging and whatever else, you take our knowledge and implement it, this where the entire world “Stops”, it is tough to pay for our own “Mistakes”, let’s stop the finger pointing and get our technology, eliminating air pollution from internal combustion engines, Right Now.

  • Rolf Goetze

    Fee-bate to Shrink Our Carbon

    Terrific and inspiring talk you gave on
    a Carbon Tax at the Cambridge Forum last Wednesday, Oct. 1. Your
    green 2 page handout was very informative but only hints at concept
    revenue-neutrality. Note that my Cambridge Nstar bills are persuasive
    in that our consumption is compared to a meaningful average of our
    neighbors. Similarly, our Prius shows us immediately when we are
    wasteful, and has improved our MPG in regular driving as well. Note
    also today’s Globe (Oct. 6) in suggesting that climate change causing
    the loss of South End parking spaces to canal gondolas is more likely
    to spur action than all the general talk about fighting climate

    + More detail or a link to the British
    Columbia experience would strengthen your handout. The most important
    reality test is if something has been implemented and survived
    several years, with a promising track record.

    + Googling “British Columbia Carbon
    Tax,” I found the Economist and Mother Jones links most persuasive,
    because these began to give me insights, e.g. what would be the cost
    increase per gallon for gasoline, cost per therm of natural gas,
    electricity per Kwatt hour?

    + The BC track record in both reducing
    consumption and withstanding repeal were most impressive.

    To point out “we’re not the first to
    try this” in a society like ours seems much more persuasive to me
    than talk about the concept.The quiz show metaphor was lost on me.
    Perhaps the “Marshmallow Test” would work better in that the
    person who delays gratification gets an extra marshmallow

    Can you work on introducing
    “Fee-bate” into your presentations and climate debate currency.
    Such a “hook”would grab some readers.

    I challenge you to create an
    Op-Ed, titled Fee-bate to Shrink Our Carbon Footprints.

    • Mark G Cooper

      We have the technology. On the Prototype, we created, on a 2005 Prius with 120,000 miles, creating less than one hundredth of one gram, in a mile. Heck over a 1000 mile trip, we produced 0.00463 grams. Show me another Prius which can produce less or even equal? You and the world, will eventually see that “Doubting All Solutions” is like saying, “Hydrogen Bombs Do not Exist, I have personally never seen one” this world, everyone in it, has to stand up, instead our technology and just stop saying ” You mean, I have to pay for an element on my car, which reduces air pollution? Why Not? We have tested now on many cars, trucks, vessels, ferries and many other implementations but still no real group, gets behind technology. Why, are you a Doubter? are you a Fence Sitters? Our technology, not only reduces green house gases but increases even my Prius, from when I bought it 41 Highway, to now 60 MPG highway at 65 MPH. In the city even more, in the 70s but still no one cares. Nice to talk about, nice to have the proof but when no one expects to contribute their part, to think this is a “Free” world. I can not remember the last time I was given a technology, for free, would you like to Barter?

    • Mike_windpower

      Mike Jacobs replies:
      Rolf, and Mark-
      I appreciate your enthusiasm, and your frustration. Action is now required. Deployment of new technology requires investment. Investment needs both attention to new opportunities, and engagement.
      But I was not at the Cambridge Forum that Rolf mentions. I have experience in the electric power grid, and I use my abilities to influence investment in that arena. UCS has a Clean Vehicles program, and our push for new technology in vehicles is substantial.