The big question: What's the best way to cost-effectively wring almost all carbon emissions out of power generation?
Renewables are part of the answer, but it will also take other low-carbon tech options, and policymakers should not close the door on any of them, a new paper by MIT researchers finds.
Why it matters: "Deep decarbonization" of electricity systems by mid-century is an important part of preventing runaway global warming.
What they did: The study in the peer-reviewed Joule offers a new taxonomy for how to think about a decarbonized power mix.
- The study explored almost 1,000 scenarios based on various emissions limits, regional differences, technology uncertainties and more.
- It's the latest entry on the "no" side of a dispute among some academics and activists over whether renewables and storage alone can decarbonize energy systems.
The details: Longstanding ways of categorizing power sources — including "baseload" for large fossil fuel and nuclear plants; "load following"; and "peaking" resources to meet demand spikes — no longer make sense in a world where renewables are already in more widespread use, the study argues.
It instead breaks down climate-friendly energy technologies into three basic categories...
- Variable renewable resources, like wind and solar.
- "Fast-burst" resources, including batteries and pricing changes, that can provide quick adjustments to supply or demand.
- "Firm" low-carbon resources including nuclear, natural gas with carbon capture and hydro-dams with large reservoirs.
What they found: We're going to need to rely on that last category — "firm" low carbon resources, in order to affordably get power sector emissions down to zero, the study concludes.
- "Across all cases, the least-cost strategy to decarbonize electricity includes one or more firm low-carbon resources. Without these resources, electricity costs rise rapidly as CO2 limits approach zero," the study states.
- The availability of these firm resources could cut the cost of fully decarbonizing power by as much as 62%.
Go deeper: Read the full story in the Axios stream.