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Ernest Moniz: California’s clean energy bill is a "very big deal"

Photo: Isaac Brekken/Getty Images for National Clean Energy Summit

I caught up Wednesday with Ernest Moniz, President Obama’s former energy secretary, to talk about California’s landmark new electricity policy calling for 100% carbon-free electricity by 2045.

The bottom line: Moniz, a widely respected energy expert and nuclear physicist, praised the law but said it faces two big challenges: Ensuring reliable electricity and maintaining cooperative land use.

Driving the news: California’s legislators passed this week legislation mandating 100% of its electricity come from carbon-free sources by 2045, and a renewable-specific target of 60% by 2030. It’s likely to soon become law.

“Here you have the fifth largest economy in the world saying we’re going to a carbon-free electricity sector in roughly 25 years. That is a very, very big deal.”
— Former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz

Moniz outlined two challenges California will face:

1) Reliable electricity: As the share of variable renewable-energy resources, particularly wind and solar, increases from the current 32% of California’s electricity share to 60% within 12 years, storage will be key:

  • “Batteries clearly are making a tremendous impact already when talking about hours of storage,” Moniz said. “But, what about when you need that backup for weeks or months. How are we going to handle that?”

2) "Not in my backyard": Wind and solar have “low energy density,” given it takes a lot of land to generate a comparatively smaller amount of power in contrast to, say, nuclear or natural gas power plants.

  • The idea of NIMBY — not in my backyard — opposition has long been a staple of energy projects of all types, renewable energy included.
  • Ensuring cooperative relationships with landowners, environmental groups and other stakeholders will be key to ensure projects — and the power lines moving the power — can be built.

The big picture: “We’re talking, here, a deployment on an unparalleled scale,” Moniz said.

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