Can Power Sector Emissions be Achieved by Aiming for 100% Renewable Energy?

Sources of renewable energy

Sources of renewable energy. Credit: Public Domain/Kenueone

The Trump-era will see the issue of an executive order rolling back the Clean Power Plan, which is in the context of rolling back President Obama’s climate and energy initiatives. Unfazed by the sentiment, researchers would continue their groundbreaking research on climate change. A particular literature review projects that keeping some nuclear and CCS could be cost-effective and also raises key issues for policymakers.

The best course to deep carbonisation of the power sector is presented in a research review that is commissioned by the Energy Innovation Reform Project (EIRP). The review projects that 100% renewables may not be the best way to get there.

Jesse Jenkins, Co-author of the research review, mentioned the two branches of research on how to get to deep carbonisation. While one looked at how to get high renewables penetrations, the other looked at how to reduce GHGs in the power sector. It was the second group which presented more diverse resource mix, like wind and solar, energy storage, and demand response. It also incorporated dispatchable base resources, which includes nuclear power, biomass, hydropower, fossil fuel generation with carbon capture and storage (CCS), and geothermal energy.

Jenkins and co-author Samuel Thernstrom reviewed around 30 studies which were published since the 2014 report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, for the EIRP review.  The report assumes that to keep global warming below 2°C the power sector would need to decarbonise faster than the other sectors.

The studies surveyed found no disagreement on prioritising decarbonisation scenarios and cited that a 100% renewable energy power mix was theoretical. It also included that dispatchable low-carbon resources would significantly reduce the cost and technical challenges of deep carbonisation.

The core set of questions around dispatchable baseload is pivoted around cost and scale. Jenkins argues that CCS and new nuclear could prove cost-effective in very high renewables penetration scenarios.  He adds that the levelised cost of energy (LCOE) when comparing technologies is not necessarily the most useful metric, and LCOEs for solar and the wind are lower, while the marginal value of additional units of nuclear is greater for very high penetrations of renewables.

Some researchers like Stanford Professor Mark Jacobson have argued that the EIRP study is misleading. While the EIRP review raises some valid concerns, the climate scientists would need to further adjoin the magnitude of the concerns.

This entry was posted in Investing in Renewable Energy, Sources of Renewable Energy. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *