September 24, 2020

How Much Investment Is Needed For A Clean Energy Future?

Aerial view of solar energy plant with California Poppies growing between panels, outside of … [+] Lancaster area of Southern California. (Photo by: Visions of America/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Across America the wind is shifting towards a cleaner energy future as more states and utilities per annum set aggressive targets to scale back the carbon intensity of our electric grid. Much of the talk over meeting strong clean energy targets has focused on the feasibility of operating the grid under high penetrations of renewable generation. a desirable report recently published by the University of California Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy argues that transitioning the U.S. electricity sector to 90% clean energy by 2035 is operationally feasible, and, even more striking, possible without raising customer’s bills from today’s levels. But achieving this outcome, the report acknowledges, would require “strong policies” to reinforce large-scale adoption of renewable energy.

So, just how strong are the policies needed to satisfy the goal of 90% clean energy by 2035?

Understanding the size of unpolluted energy investment
One way to live the dimensions of an influence plant is by the utmost output the plant can physically produce at one point in time. This maximum output is named an influence plant’s capacity and is measured during a unit called a gigawatt. to see what this suggests for those folks who aren’t power engineers, the Department of Energy has put together several helpful comparisons highlighting that a gigawatt is adequate to the utmost output of three .125 million solar photovoltaic panels, the quantity of energy got to light 110 million LED lightbulbs, or the horsepower from 2,000 Chevy Corvette Z06s.

According to the Berkeley report, to succeed in 90% clean energy by 2035 the deployment of latest clean energy and storage capacity within the us would wish to average 75 gigawatts annually , reaching over 1,200 gigawatts in total by 2035. Over the last 15 years (2005-2019), the us has added, on the average , approximately 23 gigawatts of latest power generating capacity per year—or 338 gigawatts in total. this suggests we’ll got to build quite 3 times the quantity of power station capacity per annum than we’ve within the recent past. Accounting for real-world inefficiencies, it’s possible that the clean energy capacity needed might be even higher.

The last time the U.S. developed new power plants at this scale was briefly within the early 2000s when Wall Street was excited about the promise of electrical deregulation. As a result, significant amounts of personal capital flowed into the U.S. power sector with development of latest power plants peaking in 2002 at approximately 70 gigawatts of latest capacity.

Historical U.S. power station Capacity Development vs. Annual Average Level Needed for 90% Clean … [+] Energy by 2035 (Unit = Gigawatts)

Source: S&P Global Market Intelligence and PA Consulting analysis
A massive expansion of latest clean energy capacity, of course, would require significant capital investment: over $100 billion per annum , consistent with the Berkeley report, for a complete of $1.7 trillion.

The American Council on Renewable Energy has evaluated the quantity of capital invested in U.S. renewable energy so far , allowing us to know the size of the investment challenge. Private sector investment in U.S. renewable energy and enabling grid technology reached its highest level so far in 2019 at $68.4 billion, consistent with the Council’s July report. That’s 21% above the quantity invested in 2018. the first driver of the rise , the report adds, was a “rush to qualify for the federal solar and wind tax credits” before an expected phase down of tax credits that might lower returns for power station developers.

This means to succeed in a goal of 90% clean energy within the electricity sector by 2035, we’d like to extend our annual investment by 45% compared to the year with the very best clean energy investment to date—a year when investment was partially driven by a rush to create new renewables before tax credits expired.

There is nobody size fits all solution
Filling the gap privately investment and sustaining it over time won’t be a simple task. The Berkeley report’s equally engaging companion study, by Energy Innovation, focuses on potential policy solutions. It proposes a good range of policy options that would bridge the gap on missing investment. In short, the study argues, it’ll require bold federal action, with strong complementary legislative and regulatory movement at the state and native levels to satisfy 90% clean energy by 2035.

If we as a nation prefer to radically shift towards a cleaner energy future, appropriately incentivizing private investment to realize these ends are going to be paramount. However, we must also remember that the U.S. electricity grid isn’t a monolithic entity. counting on how one draws the boundaries, there are approximately 15 distinct electricity regions across the us , each with its own unique market rules, structures, and guiding principles. this is often an artifact of how electric deregulation has progressed over the last 20 years with the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Texas generally being the foremost deregulated and therefore the states within the Southeast and far of the Midwest and West generally being more vertically integrated.

Solutions that employment towards reaching a clean energy economy in our deregulated competitive energy markets, where the bulk of market participants remain committed to the free market, are unlikely to be an equivalent strategies within our vertically integrated regions where utilities retain monopoly power. As we hear renewed involves strengthening clean energy investment across the state this election season, we must remember that for federal clean energy policies to achieve success they’re going to need to acknowledge and account for regional electricity market differences across the country.

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