Sunrise brief: Net zero carbon for less than the cost of a cup of Joe? Here’s how


Reaching zero net emissions of carbon dioxide from energy and industry by 2050 can be done by rebuilding U.S. energy infrastructure to run primarily on renewable energy, and at a net cost of about $1 per person per day. That’s according to research published by the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the University of San Francisco, and the consulting firm Evolved Energy Research.

The researchers say they modeled the entire U.S. energy and industrial system to produce a detailed, peer-reviewed study of how to achieve carbon-neutrality by 2050.

In doing so, they developed multiple technology pathways that they say are feasible and that differ widely in terms of fossil fuel use, land use, consumer adoption, nuclear energy, and bio-based fuels use. By methodically increasing energy efficiency, switching to electric technologies, using solar and wind power, and deploying a “small amount of carbon capture technology,” the United States can reach zero emissions by the middle of the century.

The authors wrote in the scientific journal AGU Advances, and were supported in part by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, an initiative of the United Nations.

Decarbonizing the U.S. energy system “is fundamentally an infrastructure transformation,” said Berkeley Lab senior scientist Margaret Torn, one of the study’s lead authors. She said that means that by 2050 the U.S. needs to build many gigawatts of wind and solar power plants, new transmission lines, a fleet of electric cars and light trucks, millions of heat pumps to replace conventional furnaces and water heaters, and more energy-efficient buildings while continuing to research and innovate new technologies.

In this transition, very little infrastructure would need “early retirement,” or replacement before the end of its economic life. “No one is asking consumers to switch out their brand-new car for an electric vehicle,” Torn said. Instead, efficient, low-carbon technologies would be used when it comes time to replace the current equipment.

The pathways studied have net costs ranging from 0.2% to 1.2% of GDP. Higher costs result from tradeoffs, such as limiting the amount of land given to solar and wind farms. In the lowest-cost pathways, about 90% of electricity generation comes from wind and solar. One scenario showed that the U.S. could meet all its energy needs with 100% renewable energy (solar, wind, and bioenergy), but at a higher cost and greater land use.

In the least-cost scenario to achieve net-zero emissions of CO2 by 2050, wind, solar, and battery storage capacity would have to increase several-fold. Vehicles would need to be mostly electric, powered either by batteries or fuel cells. And residential space and water heaters also would need to be electrified, powered either by heat pumps or electric heaters.

The researchers said the cost of the transformation is lower than what similar studies showed just five years ago. The main reason, Torn said, is that the cost of wind and solar power and batteries for electric vehicles “have declined faster than expected.”

Desert Harvest enters service

EDF Renewables North America said that its Desert Harvest 1 (114 MW) and Desert Harvest 2 (100 MW) solar projects have entered service in California.

Desert Harvest 1 provides electricity to MCE under a 20-year Power Purchase Agreement, while Desert Harvest 2 supplies energy and renewable attributes to Southern California Public Power Authority under a 25-year Renewable Energy Credit + Index structure contract.

The Federal Bureau of Land Management designated the area where the projects are located as a Solar Energy Zone and Development Focus Area, land set aside for utility-scale renewable energy development. Both projects consist of horizontal single-axis tracking solar photovoltaic technology. Desert Harvest 2 includes a 35 MW, 4-hour energy storage system.

EDF Renewables’ Asset Optimization group will perform operations and maintenance services for the life of the project. The group will provide NERC compliance support, remote monitoring, and balance-of-plant management to maximize power production.

Magic Johnson solar firm teams with Allstate

Allstate Investments has partnered with JLC Infrastructure to acquire an indirect interest in Greenskies Clean Focus, a JLC company. Terms were not disclosed. Allstate is affiliated with the insurance brand.

Greenskies originates, designs, constructs, finances, owns, and maintains solar and solar plus storage projects. It owns more than 50 MW of contracted operating projects and controls another 150 MW of contracted solar projects to be delivered over the next 18 months.

JLC Infrastructure was formed in 2015 by Loop Capital and Magic Johnson Enterprises and has offices in Chicago, New York City, and Los Angeles. Magic Johnson Enterprises is run by former NBA star Earvin Johnson.

Greenskies has delivered more than 350 MW of rooftop, carport and ground-mount solar projects, ranging in size from 100 kW to over 25 MW, in 19 states across the U.S. Customers include large retailers, technology companies, municipalities, schools, universities and electric utilities.

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