November 2022 Cleantech Roundup: Crazy Cheap Renewables | Climate Action Levers | CDR Gaps | COP27 Deliverables
This post was originally published on the Evergreen Climate Innovations blog
This month, we learn more about just how cheap wind and solar power are on track to become, what levers the federal government is pulling on climate action, knowledge gaps for carbon dioxide removal, a tangible outcome from the COP27 climate conference, and more!
Crazy Cheap Renewables
As covered by this Utility Dive article, industry experts are sharing how the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is changing folks’ expectations about the cost of power and renewables in the coming year.
A representative from generation developer NextEra indicated he expected to see “wind and solar paired with battery storage in the $20-$30/MWh range, making them competitive with natural gas-fired generation.” Towards the end of the decade, the company expects wind with storage will cost $14/MWh-$21/MWh, whereas solar with batteries could be in the $17/MWh-$24/MWh range — down 35% or more from before the IRA.
I keep writing little blurbs about the IRA not because I like covering policy news, but because it is just so impactful to the energy sector that it deserves to be a near-constant topic of consideration (a topic you can expect to continue showing up in the Cleantech Roundup).
All around the country, right now there are developers and graduate students plugging new cost assumptions into their models and techno economic analyses. A bunch of things that maybe didn’t make that much sense to electrify started to make a good deal more sense (not even considering some of the other direct subsidies for certain new decarbonization solutions). More indoor ag? Electrifying steam crackers or other energy-intensive petrochemical refining? Reshoring energy intensive manufacturing processes? I don’t know the answer, but it is going to be an interesting decade as we find out.
While the biggest lever the federal government could pull was passing new legislation like the aforementioned IRA, there are a lot of other levers at its disposal as well. Case in point — as a result of new executive action, going forward, large vendors to the Federal government will have to track their supply chain emissions and carbon footprint, disclose them, and set science based targets to reduce their emissions.
I think actions like this will help nudge some companies to report, and possibly do something about, their emissions, although I actually think the bigger thread here is that by coming at this carbon footprint measurement and reporting issue from different directions (the SEC proposed regulations are another one), the administration is setting a new floor for what table stakes is going to be for tracking and reporting going forward.
Maybe one of these things faces a legal challenge, or a new administration less focused on addressing climate change comes into place and rescinds this specific action, but it won’t really matter — corporations will have already institutionalized this function (and know they’ll have to do it again in the future even if the administration changes again) so it will become the new status quo, similar to how the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) was controversial during passage, but once successfully implemented, fell away as a political football.
Carbon Dioxide Removal Challenges — Now All in One Place
Frontier Climate (the entity coordinating a billion dollars worth of advance market commitments for carbon removal solutions that we’ve discussed previously), put out an incredible public database of carbon removal research and innovation gaps and challenges. It is a great and varied collection — some of these are potential research projects, some of these are legal issues that need to be ironed out, some of them are things that still need to be invented — a laundry list of ways folks could potentially contribute to this nascent space.
Who Will Pay for the Costs of Climate Change?
The COP27, the annual global climate conference, took place in Egypt this month.
The big news is that after a lot of uncertainty (and longtime opposition from the United States), governments decided to create a loss and damage fund, so that wealthier countries (who have created the overwhelming majority of climate emissions to date) could help poorer countries deal with the damages they are facing and will face from climate change (and who haven’t done much to contribute to the problem). That said, while there was agreement around creating the fund, the details still have to be worked out — who pays how much, what qualifies a country to receive funds, etc…
NET Power Progress
NETpower (who we’ve discussed previously) announced plans to build a 300MW utility scale plant in western Texas using its unique supercritical CO2 power cycle. If this system is successful, it’ll pave the way to broadly deploy the technology, which is essentially a combination of a natural gas turbine and carbon sequestration system, which could be operated without atmospheric emissions (if you looked at its carbon footprint it would still have one, from the extraction of the natural gas, but the lion’s share of its footprint is in atmospheric emissions that this type of system would employ).
Smart energy thinkers like Jesse Jenkins talk about the need for “clean firm” power generation for deep decarbonization (in conjunction with large amounts of wind and solar). Geothermal, advanced nuclear, long duration energy storage are all options here; NETpower is looking like it could be another arrow in the quiver as well.
Belize leveraged financing from a nonprofit to help reduce its debt load, while investing in conservation. Link
Inside Climate News covers the Land Gap report, which highlights the fact that many governments’ pledges to reduce emissions rely on plans to plant large numbers of trees, and that this often ignores practical realities such as the fact that the land in question is being used for agriculture or other purposes.
In the last month I saw not one but two companies announce plans to build induction stoves with battery storage in them — this would enable consumers to avoid making potentially costly electrical upgrades, while also leveraging the improved economics of battery storage due to a new credit in the Inflation Reduction Act.
Dynamic Line Rating is a way to enable existing transmission lines to carry larger amounts of power when the wind is blowing (say, from wind power, for example), using sensors to measure operating conditions. It hasn’t been adopted much to date yet, but has a lot of potential. I feel like this is a good example of how the energy transition isn’t going to be one silver bullet thing (although cheap renewables will play a big role), it’ll be doing 100 different smaller things smarter/better/more efficiently. Link
Solar panels are lasting a lot longer than originally expected, which means large amounts of solar panel waste and/or recycling will take place further in the future than originally expected. Link
In Michigan and Minnesota, Democrats now have majorities in both chambers as well as Democratic governors, opening up the potential for new climate policy action in those states. Link