Class 9 – transition to 100% renewables

Class 9 – Monday, April 25, 2022

  • Developing renewable energy, battery storage, conservation,
  • How fast can we transition to 100% renewable energy?
  • Buildings and transportation
  • Barriers to ending fossil fuels


Required Readings

  1. Barriers to Renewable Energy Technologies | Union of Concerned Scientists (
  3. Sierra Club
  4. Ithaca Green New Deal;

Optional Readings

  1. (note: read for class 2: Wind and Solar Power – 53 – 60   Fight the Fire

How fast can we transition to 100% clean energy?

2030 vs 2050 net zero

Industrial processes – cement, aluminum steel – getting renewable at high enough temperatures

Joint declaration of the global 100% renewable energy strategy group

The Earth’s climate emergency requires the completion of a zero-emissions economy much sooner than the generally discussed  target year of 2050. A target year needed for ending our CO2 and other climate-warming and air pollutant emissions is proposed to be 2030 for the electric power sector and soon thereafter, but ideally no later than 2035, for other sectors. The core solution to meeting this timeline is to electrify or provide direct heat for all energy and provide the electricity and heat globally with 100% renewable energy (RE).

Rich countries must end oil and gas production by 2034 to keep the world on track for 1.5°C and give poorer nations longer to replace their income from fossil fuel production, finds a new report from a leading climate scientist at the University of Manchester released today.

Jacobson – Howarth Study 2014 – 100% by 2030

This study analyzes a plan to convert New York State’s (NYS’s) all-purpose (for electricity, transportation, heating/cooling, and industry) energy infrastructure to one derived entirely from wind, water, and sunlight (WWS) generating electricity and electrolytic hydrogen. Under the plan, NYS’s 2030 all-purpose end-use power would be provided by 10% onshore wind (4020 5-MW turbines), 40% offshore wind (12,700 5-MW turbines), 10% concentrated solar (387 100-MW plants), 10% solar-PV plants (828 50-MW plants), 6% residential rooftop PV (5 million 5-kW systems), 12% commercial/ government rooftop PV (500,000 100-kW systems), 5% geothermal (36 100-MW plants), 0.5% wave (1910 0.75-MW devices), 1% tidal (2600 1-MW turbines), and 5.5% hydroelectric (6.6 1300-MW plants, of which 89% exist). The conversion would reduce NYS’s end-use power demand 37% and stabilize energy prices since fuel costs would be zero. It would create more jobs than lost because nearly all NYS energy would now be produced in-state. NYS air pollution mortality and its costs would decline by 4000 (1200–7600) deaths/yr, and $33 (10–76) billion/yr (3% of 2010 NYS GDP), respectively, alone repaying the 271 GW installed power needed within 17 years, before accounting for electricity sales. NYS’s own emission decreases would reduce 2050 U.S. climate costs by $3.2 billion.

One problem – his calculations are spreadsheets, where he plus in data from federal government. So, doesn’t really involve timetables, etc. or deal with logistical problems. And some of his assumptions have been challenged.

Transitioning to a clean-energy grid should happen by 2035, the study advises, with at least 80% of that adjustment completed by 2030.  All 50 states

When I asked Prof. Jacobson whether 2030 or 2050 should be the timeline for 100% clean renewable energy, he said 2030 is what is technologically possible, he added 20 years to deal with political and economic concerns.

We switched from horses to cars in a decade. How fast did the iPhone take off? Other technological shifts have happen much faster than expected.

Biden – 100% clean electricity by 2035. In April 2021, the United States set a target to create a “carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035”—an important element in the country’s goal of reducing emissions 50 to 52 percent by 2030 and achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

This article presents a potential “zero-by-35” decarbonization scenario in which each regional power market would reach net-zero greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions by 2035 without offsets from other sectors.

International Energy Agency – The Net‐Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario (NZE) shows what is needed for the global energy  sector  to achieve netzero CO2 emissions by  2050. Alongside corresponding reductions in GHG emissions from outside the energy sector, this is consistent with limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5 °C without a temperature overshoot (with a  50%  probability).  Achieving  this  would  require  all  governments  to  increase ambitions from current Nationally Determined Contributions and net zero pledges. In the NZE, global energy‐related and industrial process CO2 emissions fall by nearly 40% between 2020 and 2030 and to net zero in 2050. Universal access to sustainable energy is achieved by 2030. There is a 75% reduction in methane emissions from fossil fuel  use  by  2030.  These  changes  take  place  while  the  global  economy  more  than doubles through to 2050 and the global population increases by 2 billion.

Extinction Rebellion – getting to zero emissions by 2025 – is it realistic? (looks at UK) –

Barriers – technological vs. political

Cost of Renewable Energy vs Fossil Fuels

As we will outline below, government subsidies play a major part in how renewable energy sources will begin to grow, but let’s look at the cost of renewable energy vs fossil fuels without subsidies first to get a real idea of the cost difference.

Based on global energy prices, coal prices have averaged around $0.06 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh), steam from fossil fuel prices have averaged around $0.05 cents/kWh, and small-scale natural gas prices have dropped as low as $0.03 cents/kWh, and until the last 10 years, renewable energy prices didn’t come anywhere near as low as this.

This is why it came as such a surprise when, in 2016, a major commercial solar farm offered a particularly low price for photovoltaic energy at $0.029 cents/kWh. This leveled out the cost between renewable energy and fossil fuels, so this can no longer be an excuse for why fossil fuels are still being used so widely.

The cost of offshore wind turbines has fallen about 80% over the last two decades, to as low as $50 a megawatt-hour. While more expensive per unit of energy than solar and wind farms on land, offshore turbines often make economic sense because of lower transmission costs.

Fossil Fuel vs Renewable Energy Subsidies in the US

One of the reasons that renewable energy is now so affordable in the United States is due to the energy subsidies set out by the Government. They offer these subsidies to consumers and businesses to encourage them to use more sustainable power sources in the fight against climate change.

Renewable energy subsidies are financial incentives that reduce the cost of using renewable energy sources in the hope that more industries, and energy consumers in general, will make the switch from fossil fuels to alternative energies.

Although initial installation costs are relatively high, as the subsidies come in the form of tax breaks or as direct payments, the Government is effectively paying for these initial costs so switching to the use of renewable energy sources will be cheaper in the long run.

There is a fundamental problem with the way US renewable tax credits are designed. Tax breaks are supposed to go to companies that develop renewable energy projects, but these developers rarely owe any taxes when they start building a wind or solar farm because most begin as a new company, with no pre-existing tax bills. If developers want to get any value out of government incentives, they must try to bring on third-party financial partners – typically massive banks like JP Morgan and Bank of America. Developers effectively sell their tax breaks to these banks in return for the upfront funds that banks invest in a project.

Capacity factor

The capacity factor is simply the ratio of energy generated over a time period (typically a year) divided by the installed capacity.

Generation Type Capacity Factor
Solar Panels 25%
Wind Turbines 35%
Hydroelectric Power Stations 40%
Coal Fired Power Plants 70%
Nuclear Power Plants 89%
Combined Cycle Gas Turbine 38% and

Stranded assets

The likelihood of fossil fuel assets being rendered worthless underscores the need to decarbonize the world’s economy as quickly as possible, according to Mark Carney, the U.N.’s special envoy on climate action and finance. Carney, the former governor of the Bank of England, said it was essential to “retool the plumbing” of financial markets so that every financial decision can take climate change into account. This includes steering lending away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy alternatives.

The International Renewable Energy Agency, an intergovernmental organization, said in 2019 that at least $11.8 trillion worth of assets world-wide were at risk of being stranded by climate change and rules put in place to try to limit it through 2050.

The energy industry would face $3.3 trillion in stranded assets, according to Irena’s estimates. Much of the value of large energy companies comes from the expected income from their fossil-fuel reserves.

Siting is the need to locate things like wind turbines and solar farms on pieces of land. Doing so requires negotiations, contracts, permits, and community relations, all of which can increase costs and delay or kill projects. NIMBY – Not In My Back Yard

NY Action. In an effort to speed the development of large-scale clean energy resources, New York lawmakers authorized the creation of an Office of Renewable Energy Siting (ORES) and took steps to accelerate transmission investment to move carbon-free electricity to load centers. The new siting rules will ensure renewables projects larger than 25 MW can receive approval within a year. Under the current process, siting for these projects takes two to three years, experts say.

Transmission refers to the power lines and infrastructure needed to move electricity from where it’s generated to where it’s consumed. Because wind and solar are relative newcomers, most of what exists today was built to serve large fossil fuel and nuclear power plants.

the cheapest wind power is from the Great Plains and Intermountain West, and the cheapest solar power is from the Southwest and Southeast regions, and both need a way to reach faraway coastal markets. But there’s little chance that states will be able to meet their more aggressive carbon-reduction goals with DERs (distributed energy resources) or in-state resources alone, according to the report. That puts pressure on federal and state regulators to find ways to unblock the current bottlenecks in project development,

Load flexibility / load management / demand – The problem has always been coordination; before the internet, it was laborious, slow, and “chunky” to plan and execute shifts in demand. But as more and more appliances, homes, buildings, and industrial facilities are wired to the web, it has become easier to synchronize and coordinate their consumption, to treat them like an aggregate unit. Various forms of “load flexibility” are emerging as a significant force in energy systems. That shift to more dispatchable demand has important consequences. To the extent consumption can be controlled, the big peaks and spikes of demand can be reduced. That, in turn, reduces the need for overbuilding of power plants, potentially saving billions and reducing unnecessary carbon emissions.

Peaker plants really dirty and expensive.

Access to Rare minerals

Minerals have played a critical role in the rise of many of the clean energy technologies that are widely used today – from wind turbines and solar panels to electric vehicles. But ensuring that these and other key technologies can draw on sufficient mineral supplies to support the acceleration of energy transitions around the world is a significant and under-analyzed global challenge.

Lithium, cobalt and nickel give batteries greater charging performance and higher energy density. Copper is essential for the increasing use of electricity throughout energy systems thanks to its unmatched ability to conduct electric currents. And some rare earth elements such as neodymium make powerful magnets that are vital for wind turbines and electric vehicles.

The concentration of refining operations is also high, with China alone accounting for some 50% to 70% of global lithium and cobalt refining. China also holds a dominant position along the entire rare earths value chain. It is responsible for 85% to 90% of the processing operations that convert mined rare earths into metals and magnets1.

In addition, current extraction practices in some cases are inefficient, unsafe, polluting and subject to social protests. Some 20% of cobalt production in the DRC relies on “artisanal” miners who extract minerals with rudimentary tools in hazardous conditions2. Rare earth processing involves large amounts of harmful chemicals and produces high volumes of solid waste and wastewater, which are not always appropriately handled. These pose additional challenges for stable sourcing of minerals amid growing social and environmental concerns.

Estimate that will need to increase some of these minerals from 5 to 12 times by 2050. –  A new World Bank Group report finds that the production of minerals, such as graphite, lithium and cobalt, could increase by nearly 500% by 2050, to meet the growing demand for clean energy technologies. It estimates that over 3 billion tons of minerals and metals will be needed to deploy wind, solar and geothermal power, as well as energy storage, required for achieving a below 2°C future.


Utility scale renewables – vs rooftop, decentralized

There is presently a lot of rooftop solar all over the world. But there are now more efficient ways of using solar. One is in new buildings, where the solar panels can replace roof tiles. Installing arrays of PV on the roofs of public buildings and warehouses is also cheaper than putting panels on smaller domestic roofs. But the real economies come with the “industrial scale” solar farms that now cover many fields and deserts. In these, solar arrays can be mounted on pivots, so that they turn to follow the sun across the sky at the best angle. When you read about very cheap solar, this is what they mean Solar may have started “off-line”, but it now makes sense as part of an integrated grid that connects hundreds of thousands of users. Solar power is, by its physical nature, a technology that works far more efficiently if it is shared

An important exception. Rooftop solar is particularly well suited to running domestic air conditioners. The sunnier it is on any given day, the more electricity is produced and the more it is needed

Friends of Columbia Solar

By the beginning of 2017, Hecate was striking lease deals with local farmers for a 60-megawatt installation on multiple parcels of land, to be called Shepherd’s Run solar farm.

Then it all bogged down. The town changed its zoning rules in April 2017 to try to thwart large solar development. Then it went to court to try to stop Shepherd’s Run.

Nor did it appear, after steady opposition, that there would be a solar farm. But then, last month, something surprising happened: A self-organized “working group” of Copake residents, aided by volunteer experts, presented what seemed very much like a civic plan to embrace the project. They agreed to work together to “reinforce Hecate’s commitment to being a community partner, and secure community support for Shepherd’s Run.”

After they watched the working group’s crisp, professional presentation, which also took place over Zoom and was accompanied by the release of a new website explaining the proposal, the 140 or so participants were invited to provide feedback. Almost everyone who spoke expressed some level of support. It was dizzying. A plan that had been publicly battered for five years — and is still opposed by local politicians — suddenly had momentum.

Perhaps the most important lesson is that it’s possible to win converts and overcome local opposition to development. But Copake is a cautionary tale as well. Because if it takes the better part of a decade to site a medium-size solar project in a rural community with a liberal political disposition, the transition to clean energy could well be a slow-motion disaster.

Why has off shore wind been so slow in the US

High costs, limited state and federal support, and opposition from a coalition of stakeholders—including shorefront communities that don’t want turbines spoiling their views—have been prohibitive. Offshore wind is poised to take off in the U.S.—but it won’t be easy (

In recent years, however, many of the barriers to offshore wind development have started to come down. For one, the technology has matured in Europe, where thousands of offshore wind turbines have been installed. The larger, more powerful 12- to 14-megawatt turbines hitting the market today provide a better return on investment than the six-megawatt turbines installed at Block Island, helping drive costs down.

At the same time, a number of states have adopted emissions reduction targets in recent years, spurred by extreme weather events and projections of even more severe climate impacts in the future.

There’s a lot of infrastructure that’s going to be needed,” Speakes-Backman says.

To accommodate the electricity arriving from offshore, utilities will have to add new transmission infrastructure to the grid, including coastal substations to receive the electricity and new power lines to funnel it into cities.

In addition to new supply chains and electrical infrastructure, the U.S. needs giant new ports capable of receiving and assembling turbine components. It also requires specialized installation ships that jack themselves up out of the water on legs and use tall cranes to erect the skyscraper-sized turbines. A 1920 law known as the Jones Act—which stipulates that only U.S. vessels can ferry goods between U.S. ports—makes using them in U.S. waters even more challenging.

accelerating the permitting process that has kept projects in regulatory limbo for years. Wind farms in federal waters must receive permits from the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, or BOEM. Currently, BOEM has 17 active commercial wind leases, including 14 projects that have submitted construction and operations plans for environmental review.

Fishermen and offshore wind

Fishermen feel they are being forgotten. Many say that their concerns – which range from safety issues operating around wind farms to how offshore wind development will alter the ocean environment and affect fish stocks – aren’t being meaningfully considered by regulators. Offshore wind “is one of the most consistently cited factors as a big risk to businesses and their practices”, said Annie Hawkins, the executive director of the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance (Roda), a trade association representing commercial fishermen.

Fishermen worry that turbines and their associated infrastructure, including seafloor transmission cables and concrete foundations, will make it impossible to operate their vessels safely. Along the US west coast, where floating offshore wind technology is expected to be deployed because of the much greater depth to seafloor, suspended transmission cables could impede fishing nets and create a “functional closure” for certain types of gear,

Battery Storage

to make the transition to solar, wind, and other renewables that is necessary to avoid the worst outcomes of climate change, spare energy must be captured and made easily accessible when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing. Batteries are one option—but their numerous drawbacks have turned people’s attention to alternatives. The goal, as Matthew Hutson writes in an eye-opening report from this week’s issue, sounds simple enough: “If you use clean energy to do the initial work and find a green way to store and release it, you’ve created an ecologically responsible battery alternative.” But finding a practical, inexpensive, and efficient way to do it is the trick. One company is pumping water underground to form reservoirs that it can release to generate power. Another is liquefying air by cooling it to more than three hundred degrees below zero, and then warming it up to spin turbines. Yet another is trying something with weights and pulleys.

But typical battery models exhaust their stored energy after only three or four hours of maximum output,

Buildings – Energy conservation and insulation, renewable power

Cities account for nearly two-thirds of CO2 emissions that are driving global climate change. Beyond that, buildings account for nearly 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions due to their high day-to-day energy use and the carbon generated during their manufacturing and construction process.

Renewable Heat Now Campaign

Enacts the “all-electric building act”; provides that no city, town or village shall issue a permit for the construction of new buildings that are not an all-electric building if the initial application for a permit was submitted after December 31, 2023 unless certain circumstances apply.

Geothermal and heat pumps

The technology relies on the fact that the earth (beneath the surface) remains at a relatively constant temperature throughout the year, warmer than the air above it during the winter and cooler in the summer, very much like a cave. The geothermal heat pump takes advantage of this by transferring heat stored in the earth or in ground water into a building during the winter, and transferring it out of the building and back into the ground during the summer. The ground, in other words, acts as a heat source in winter and a heat sink in summer.

No new gas in buildings. Much stronger building codes re insulation, energy efficiency appliances, etc.

Energy retrofits

How do you deal with existing buildings? Require energy retrofit whenever they are sold or refinanced? NY tried a voluntary on bill financing program that did work – consumers don’t like to incur debt and banks and utilities don’t like to finance debt to consumers (especially at low costs)

Ithaca Green New Deal – $100 million to decarbonize buildings –  the city of Ithaca, New York, voted to decarbonize and electrify buildings in the city by the end of the decade — a goal that was part of the city’s own Green New Deal and one of the portions of the plan that will help the city become carbon neutral by 2030.Ithaca is the first U.S. city to establish such a plan, which the city says will cut Ithaca’s 400,000 tons per year of carbon dioxide emissions by 40%. The timeline to achieve its goal is much sooner than what other cities around the world have pledged to do.

Ithaca – which has a total budget of less than $80m – raise $100m by offering investors entry to a large-scale program he pitched as low risk with the potential for lots of cashflow. The goal is to create a lending program providing low- or no-interest loans and quick implementation of sustainable technology. The first batch of building owners could sign up as soon as September. For most homeowners, the program would help them swap out a gas furnace for an electric heat pump, or a gas stove for an electric one – changes that would otherwise involve high upfront costs. Aguirre-Torres says the program will also train a new green workforce in Ithaca.

“We’re talking about a people-first approach, rather than just purely environmental,” Aguirre-Torres said. The plan aims to create 1,000 new jobs by 2030, and the city has promised to redirect 50% of the financial benefits of its Green New Deal plan to low-income residents,


Transportation All electric vehicles

– buses
– long haul trucks
– subways


– hydrogen
– batteries
– less air travel plus better and faster trains
– low carbon fuels
– airlines are saying net zero by 2050

Green fuel

The airline industry believes its quickest path to net-zero is replacing jet fuel with “sustainable aviation fuel” (SAF) made from renewable sources, such as plants or used cooking oil.

In theory, SAF can cut flight emissions by around 80%, depending on how it is made.

But SAF is not widely available because of cost. The United States and other countries are considering subsidies to bring prices down and supplies up. In the meantime, some airlines are blending small amounts into their fuel

Offset credits are generated by investing in clean energy projects, planting trees, or supporting other types of efforts that keep emissions from the atmosphere. Airlines and other industries are already making these investments.

Electric and hydrogen

Other options being studied include whether battery capacity can be scaled up to power planes, and whether hydrogen fuel made with renewable power can be produced in the quantities needed.