3. How to cost-effectively decarbonize power
Renewables are just part of the answer to how we can best transition to a zero carbon power sector by midcentury, Ben Geman writes. 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: So-called "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 journal Joule offers a new taxonomy for how to think about a decarbonized power mix. The study explored almost 1,000 power sector scenarios based on various emissions limits, regional differences, technology uncertainties and more.
It's the latest entry on the "no" side of a debate among some academics and activists over whether renewables and storage alone can decarbonize energy systems.
The details: The study 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.
“It’s not about specific technologies. It’s about those key roles that we need filled on the low-carbon team,” study co-author Jesse Jenkins tells Axios.
The big picture: The study arrives as California is on the cusp of enacting legislation that requires a zero carbon power mix by 2045.
What they're saying: Energy experts who were not involved in the study tell Axios it makes valuable contributions.
Costa Samaras of Carnegie Mellon University says it helps to show that even steep cost declines in renewables and batteries aren't enough.
- "What the authors have shown in this paper, is that getting to a zero carbon energy system is considerably more costly without firm low-carbon resources even when considering that variable renewables and fast-burst balancing resources could get really cheap," he said.