Energy Link Archipelago 04/26/22
California, Good vs. Bad Carbon, Ramez Naam, and Vaclav Smil
I’ve been traveling and caught my first cold since 2019, so my posts have been limited lately. Hoping to publish some new longform content soon (so many topics to choose from at the moment — energy storage conundrums, the energy-bitcoin relationship, the specific goals of this Substack, reliability issues, affordability issues, etc, etc).
DIABLO CANYON/RELIABILITY: “Batteries with only 4 hours of storage are supposed to accommodate the loss of [Diablo Canyon]. It should be mentioned that the largest battery storage installation in the world, Moss Landing, sits in California. It has been offline for months because it lit on fire due to a malfunctioning sprinkler system. When the blackouts kick in, blame the NRDC. That's their vision of the future.” Grid Brief
DISTRIBUTED ENERGY RESOURCES: At its business meeting last week, the California Public Utilities Commission ratified a new DERs “action plan,” which anticipates the sustained high growth of DERs in California based on several trends/indicators, including the California Energy Commission’s forecasted increases through 2030 in Behind-the-Meter solar generation (260%), BTM storage capacity (770%), and electric vehicle demand (370%).
ENERGY STORAGE: Also at its business meeting last week, the CPUC adopted a resolution that authorizes nine energy storage contracts for PG&E that total nearly 1,600 megawatts of incremental capacity. By the end of 2024, PG&E anticipates having 3,300 MW of battery projects connected to the grid.
MOSS LANDING: The Moss Landing Energy Storage facility, mentioned above, may be back online following an investigation and updated restart schedule.
Engineers are attempting to transform bad carbon into good carbon: “…pure carbon could be used in automobile manufacturing, textiles, and in biochar, which helps fields retain moisture, fosters the microbiome under the ground, and improves crop yields.”
The cost of electric vehicle battery cells has increased by over 50% this year.
Noah Smith has a new longform interview out with Ramez Naam. In terms of ideology, I am pretty far away from both of these guys but Naam has interesting things to say about a large variety of energy-related subjects.
Know which state in the US has the most combined wind and solar power? Guess. Is it California? No. It’s Texas. Why? Because Texas has an open electricity market that encourages direct price competition between different energy production resources, which advantages solar and wind, because they’ve been plunging in cost. Texas is also sunny, windy, has a lot of land, and makes it easy to build transmission, and to build things in general (which blue states ought to learn from).
So however you look at it, clean energy is going to win in the US. That’s no longer in doubt. It’s inevitable. The only question is how far, how fast.
…we need open markets for competition. Utilities are, in most states, regulated monopolies that don’t have to choose the cheapest energy. They get rewarded for building things, whether those things work well or were the cheapest option for their customers or not. That’s completely messed up. There are a lot of things broken about Texas, and a number of things broken about their electricity market (ERCOT) in particular. But one thing they get right: Energy resources compete on price. And building transmission to your new solar or wind farm is relatively doable. That’s why Texas is seeing such a massive solar boom right now. In much of the rest of the country the same isn’t true.
Most controversially, I will say that our biggest single climate policy miss, by far, is that we are doing essentially zero to advance the state of science of intervening in the climate system. I’m talking about a range of things here, from cloud brightening, to stabilizing glaciers that are melting, or somehow intervening in methane release from a thawing arctic, and all the way up to solar radiation management geo-engineering. Everyone seems to hate this idea. But I have news for you. We are not going to stay below 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming. It is just not going to happen. We have missed that boat.
Smil (emphases added):
If you assume that carbon dioxide is our deadliest problem, then of course we should decarbonize totally. But people say by 2050 — they call it “net” carbon emissions. The I.P.C.C., they don’t say zero, they say “net zero.” Leaving that cushion — one billion, five billion, 10 billion tons of CO2 we will still be emitting but taking care of by carbon sequestration. Is it realistic that we’ll be sequestering so rapidly on such a scale? People toss out these deadlines without any reflection on the scale and the complexity of the problem. Decarbonization by 2030? Really?
The key to understanding risk — forget about climate change — is very simple. It’s discounting the future. People will eat pork bellies and drink a liter of alcohol every day because the joy of eating pork belly and drinking surpasses the possible bad payoff 30 years down the road. Suppose we start investing like crazy and start bringing down the carbon as rapidly as possible. The first beneficiaries will be people living in the 2070s because of what’s already in the system. The temperature will keep rising even as we are reducing these emissions. So you are asking people now to make quote-unquote sacrifices while the first benefits will accrue to their children and the real benefits will accrue to their grandchildren. You have to redo the basic human wiring in the brain to change this risk analysis and say, I value 2055 or 2060 as much as I value tomorrow. None of us is wired to think that way.
The more photovoltaics the better. However, to have photovoltaics on a large scale, you have to have interconnections. If the country doesn’t have any grid or has a weak national grid, how will you distribute electricity? Countries need electricity for giant plants, for making chemicals, processing foods, making textiles. So you have to have photovoltaics on a large scale, which means a big electric grid. As I say, even the U.S. has a poor active grid. So forget about Nigeria. Putting a photovoltaic panel on a roof is very easy. Developing a system around photovoltaics for the whole country — very difficult. No country in the world today runs itself on pure photovoltaics.