Hazy Forecast for Biden’s Goal of a Green Electrical Grid | Voice of America
LA CYGNE, KANSAS – Powering a large industrial country can be a dirty business.
The United States continues to rely primarily on fossil fuels such as natural gas and coal to produce nearly 400,000 gigawatt hours of electricity annually for commercial, industrial, and residential consumers.
President Joe Biden wants the United States to have carbon-free electricity, or what is known as “net zero,” by 2035. This means an overall balance between the greenhouse gas emissions generated and the so-called CO2 compensation payments such as planting trees.
“You can’t do this without technology that isn’t currently on the market,” said Mike Sommers, president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, in response to a VOA question on a conference call with reporters.
API’s 600 members produce, process and distribute most of the energy in the US.
API supports the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement to Reduce Greenhouse Gases, from which President Donald Trump the United States withdrew and which Biden rejoined this year.
The organization has presented its own climate protection plan that approves a federal price for CO2 emissions and is committed to promoting cleaner fuels.
“While some public utilities may be able to achieve net zero emissions by 2035, many others will not be able to do so without technological breakthroughs in energy storage and other advanced technologies,” said Desmarie Waterhouse, vice president of government relations for the American Public Power Association .
APPA represents nonprofit, municipal utilities that supply electricity to 2,000 US cities.
“It is difficult to see how such a large company can be implemented in less than 14 years without massive investment by the federal government in research, development and demonstration of advanced clean energy technologies and changes to federal law to accelerate the construction of clean energy infrastructure. All of this needs to be done while ensuring the reliability of the grid and the affordability of electricity for consumers, “Waterhouse said in a statement to VOA.
As a result, “Fossil fuels will continue to play an important role in America in the years to come,” confirmed the new Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland, at a forum on Thursday.
“There are people who think we can turn everything off and just run everything with sun and wind. That’s a fallacy, ”said Anjan Bose, a professor at Washington State University, an electricity industry advisor.
Rising global temperatures
Carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels are the leading cause of rising global temperatures, according to the scientific community, warning that this will harm human civilization.
In North America, transportation is the main source of such greenhouse gases, followed by electricity generation.
In order to reduce CO2 emissions to the level Biden wants, the country would have to rely more on the sun, wind, water and splitting to generate electricity.
“What we call renewable energy – solar and wind – alone is unlikely,” said Jim Kirtley, professor of electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Solar systems require a lot of land and the output of individual wind turbines is relatively low, especially compared to conventional power plants.
Take, for example, the La Cygne coal-fired power plant here in Linn County, Kansas.
A power line can be seen in front of La Cygne Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant in Kansas, in March 2021. (Steve Herman / VOA)
Replacing 1,600 megawatts of power with renewable energy would require around 800,000 solar panels or 320 of the largest onshore wind turbines – plus an impossible assumption that the sun never sets and the wind never stops.
Coupling batteries to wind and sun is seen as the solution to the problem, but the technology and economics have yet to be proven.
Another challenge is the US power grid. It was built to have a constant flow of current that goes through all the time. Since wind and sun are variable resources, the grid still needs a reliable base load, such as that supplied by coal or gas turbines, which can be quickly throttled up and down to compensate for the different usage requirements depending on the time of day and season.
Solar is now affordable and in some cases cheaper than fossil fuels, according to Jan Mazurek, director of the Carbon Dioxide Removal Fund at the ClimateWorks Foundation.
“The challenge, however, is knowing when to bring the sun online and when to bring a more solid resource online after sunset. And that’s a universal challenge, whether it’s in Southeast Asia or the US, ”she said.
Overall, Mazurek is optimistic.
“We can achieve emission-free electricity generation of up to 67% by 2031, compared to 39% in normal business operations. Only the existing emission-free base load with wind and solar radiation is used, so I don’t think that this is an insurmountable challenge, ”Mazurek told VOA.
What about electricity?
Meanwhile, the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, an independent advisor to the federal government, are proposing funding experiments to shoot particles into the atmosphere to increase the amount of reflected sunlight, and to sow clouds with particles that more Would allow heat to escape from the earth.
More down-to-earth solutions are required from others.
“The key to reducing carbon emissions in our economy is electrification,” said Kirtley. “Electric cars, electric trains, and converting industrial processes like steelmaking to electricity are feasible and would enable the use of carbon-free energy sources like nuclear power.”
In order for the US economy to move to carbon-free generation, Kirtley said an effective carbon tax would be required and “we need to reform our regulation of building nuclear power plants to reduce the time it takes to build them.”
Some environmentalists and politicians remain reluctant to support nuclear energy, pointing to past disasters on Three Mile Island in the US state of Pennsylvania, Chernobyl in Ukraine and Fukushima in Japan.
“In the past few years, clean energy advocates and environmentalists have done a lot to support nuclear power as it becomes clearer that when nuclear power is lost, we often find that it is being replaced by fossil fuels, against any advances made in We will add more wind, sun and new nuclear power in the decades to come, ”said John Kotek, vice president of policy development and public affairs at the Nuclear Energy Institute.
“Because of this, states like Illinois, New Jersey and Connecticut have passed bipartisan laws to preserve existing nuclear power plants,” Kotek told VOA in a statement.
“There is no denying that we need public policy to drive much of this change and bring us to zero and below zero by 2050,” Mazurek said. “It’s a critical moment, but at the same time I’m very encouraged by private sector action.”
Government, regulators and industry also need to figure out how to manage a much more complex grid that is always a delicate balancing act, even without renewable energies.
This was evident during last year’s power outages in California and the February power outage during a winter storm in Texas, the two most populous US states.
“There is no entity that takes responsibility for ensuring that there are enough generations,” said Bose, who also warns that insufficient attention is being paid to the resilience of the distribution system, which is no longer passive and one-sided. Added to this is the increase and strength of harmful storms, which many attribute to climate change.
“Policies and regulations don’t always seem to align very well with upcoming technologies,” said Bose of Washington State University.