New report makes use of historic carbon emissions and deliberate technology to reply the query of whether or not the Southeast power sector is on observe to decarbonize at a charge sufficient sufficient to mitigate the climate disaster.

Heather Pohnan and Maggie Shober | August 2, 2019 | Climate Change, Energy Policy, Utilities

None of the Southeast’s electric utilities are taking ample motion to decarbonize our power provide. Even although these utilities have demonstrated a pointy decline in carbon emissions over the previous decade, the following decade will see a gradual slowing after which maybe even an uptick within the emissions that drive world warming. The lack of lengthy-time period plans to decarbonize stands in distinction to utility commitments to scale back and even get rid of carbon emissions over the following few many years.

That is the unlucky conclusion in our first annual report tracking power generation and the related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the Southeast. In the report, we illustrate the adjustments in technology and CO2 emissions since 2010 in utilities and states, and embrace a forecast of the technology gasoline combine and CO2 emissions based mostly on the place utility plans stand at this time.

Others have lately come to comparable conclusions. The Energy and Policy Institute discovered that utility carbon targets reflect a slowdown in decarbonization in the next decade. Carbon Tracker’s profiles for main Southeast utilities Duke Energy, Southern Company, and NextEra Energy (proprietor of Florida Power & Light) categorize all three as “Paris-Unaligned,” referring to the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Download: Tracking Decarbonization in the Southeast: 2019 Generation and CO2  Emissions report.
Webinar: SACE technical staff take a deeper dive into the report findings.

Why will we care about decarbonization?

Decarbonization is the transition of our energy use to a sector that emits decrease CO2 emissions. Climate scientists inform us we need to get to net zero global greenhouse gas emissions between 2040 and 2055 to limit global average temperature increase to 1.5 degrees C and keep away from the worst of the climate disaster. A rising variety of states, cities, and electric utilities have set lengthy-time period objectives meant to handle the disaster that embrace transitioning to renewable energy and decreasing greenhouse gasoline emissions. But are utilities doing sufficient to meet these objectives? In this companion weblog to the Tracking Decarbonization in the Southeast report, we look at key themes that assist clarify how utilities are failing to sufficiently decrease emissions within the electric power sector.

Decarbonization faces many challenges

Under present utility plans, the following decade of power sector decarbonization slows from charges seen on this decade. High prices and the necessity to additional develop applied sciences are sometimes falsely cited as the first limitations to decarbonization. Even the place objectives have been set, there are structural challenges to realizing these objectives and decarbonizing at charges wanted to handle the climate disaster.

  • Inconsistency between objectives and plans: Public dealing with objectives might not have an effect if they don’t seem to be additionally adopted by utilities internally.
  • Power contracts: Many utilities have objectives to scale back CO2 emissions from utility-owned power vegetation. Goals that exclude emissions from bought power or objectives based mostly on emission depth might overstate emissions reductions.
  • City objectives: The construction of utility service and franchise agreements make it tough for cities that rely upon massive, monopoly utilities to obtain decarbonization or 100% renewable objectives.
  • Customer selection: Many prospects need power from low-to-no carbon sources, however it may be tough for prospects to take part in utility lengthy-time period planning processes the place these choices are made.

What is the position of electric utilities?

Many utilities are taking part in a passive position in decreasing CO2 emissions, when they need to be taking an lively one. Globally, carbon emissions are rising, however within the U.S. and within the Southeast they’ve been progressively declining, pushed by decreases noticed within the electric power sector pushed primarily by economics. That’s good, proper?

Well, it is dependent upon the explanation that they’re declining. Although the economics of fresh energy technology proceed to enhance and solar is being deployed at an rising scale, renewable energy penetration amongst most Southeastern utilities continues to be comparatively low. However, by inspecting tendencies over time we are able to see that there are different elements influencing this historic drop in emissions that may issue into whether or not emission declines proceed.

What key elements drive carbon emission tendencies?

Changes in power technology have pushed CO2 emissions from electric utilities within the Southeast down for over a decade. Despite the deployment of solar, these tendencies in emissions and technology flatten out underneath present utility plans. This flat pattern falls far wanting the trajectories advisable by scientists as wanted to keep away from the worst of the climate disaster. In our 2019 report, we concentrate on 4 elements that may drive future CO2 emissions from Southeast power technology up or down.

  • Utilities are forecasting low demand for electrical energy
  • Clean energy is dependent upon partnership between states and utilities
  • The potential for solar to exchange gasoline as utilities’ go-to new construct useful resource
  • Purchasing power from outdoors the utility, state, and even area

Low Demand for Electricity

Utilities serve a rising variety of prospects, however that now not interprets into electric demand development. Southeastern utilities are collectively forecasted to have comparatively flat load within the 2020-2030 timeframe, a departure from historic tendencies. New technology wants will likely be pushed by plant retirements as a substitute of buyer demand.

Coal retirements

Fossil fuels (gasoline + coal) made up over 90% of all Southeast utility CO2 emissions in 2017, although the proportion of coal emissions to gasoline emissions have shifted from 75% to 21% respectively in 2010 to 49% to 44% in 2017. Planned coal retirements will proceed to drive regional CO2 emissions downwards, however rising gasoline consumption might hinder additional progress in direction of carbon objectives. Current utility plans embrace some new solar technology and energy effectivity investments to exchange retiring coal capability. However, gasoline stays the favourite new power plant of many utilities within the Southeast regardless of financial and emission causes to be skeptical of constructing new gasoline vegetation sooner or later.

Purchased power

When power vegetation generate extra electrical energy than prospects devour, the plant proprietor can promote extra technology to different firms to assist get better prices. Entities that purchase extra power than they’ll generate are internet importers of power, whereas those who promote further technology are exporters. The quantity of power bought every year is dependent upon many elements and may fluctuate yearly, however states resembling Alabama and Georgia have massive transactions, exporting and importing (respectively) 32 and 30 TWh in a single 12 months to meet demand. Many utility CO2 emission discount objectives are based mostly on emissions from power vegetation the utility owns, and thus exclude emissions from bought power.

Resource planning

Integrated Resource Plans (IRPs) are the formal future planning course of for utilities. The quantity and supply of energy that powers the area is guided by utility IRPs. The aim of an IRP is to examine prices of several types of energy and develop a future useful resource combine that most closely fits forecast energy demand on the “lowest system cost.” No Southeastern state requires consideration of CO2 emissions in an IRP.

So are we on observe?

Historical emission tendencies present the Southeast power sector decarbonizing at a charge that seems acceptable to attain the advisable internet-zero emissions by 2050 goal, so kudos to utilities for realizing simply how unhealthy the economics of continuous to function outdated coal vegetation actually is, the renewable energy market for supplying a viable various to solely new gasoline, and cities and states which have put forth insurance policies to spur decarbonization.

However, the outlook for the longer term doesn’t look so rosy. Unless present utility plans change considerably, utilities within the Southeast aren’t on observe to get to internet-zero emissions by 2050. In reality we see little to no total emission reductions after the early 2020s.

Treating gasoline as a “bridge fuel” brings its personal challenges

Utility future plans proceed to embrace the development of latest gasoline vegetation. Though this report was restricted to evaluation of CO2 that’s emitted on the power plant stack, it will be important to embrace a word about one other essential greenhouse gasoline associated to power technology: methane.

Gas emits about half the CO2 per MWh generated than coal from the stack, which makes the alternative of coal with gasoline the most important consider explaining latest emission discount tendencies. However, the method of drilling for and delivering gasoline to the area causes extraordinarily excessive methane emissions, primarily from production and processing activities. This leakage is referred to as “fugitive emissions” of methane, and lots of utility programs are starting to enhance their efforts to exchange growing old gasoline pipelines and infrastructure.

New estimates recommend that at a nationwide stage, roughly 2.4% of gasoline is misplaced via leaks. Based on the present demand for gasoline from Southeast power vegetation, assuming a mean leak charge makes Southeast gasoline power vegetation accountable for methane emissions with the greenhouse gasoline potential of about 44 million tons of CO2 every year. This is as well as to the 380 million tons of CO2 emissions emitted from power plant stacks. Accounting for these fugitive methane emissions is especially essential for states like Florida the place gasoline represented 64% of the state’s total technology in 2017 and is anticipated to proceed to develop.

Methane emissions have been getting each constructive consideration from utility and environmental teams, in addition to efforts to roll again environmental protections by the present administration. Some utilities, together with Duke Energy and Southern Company, have begun to estimate and report methane emissions. As extra entities observe and report methane emissions we will likely be in a position to report on regional methane emission tendencies with higher accuracy.

Final request to utilities: higher knowledge for subsequent 12 months’s report

This report is our first in what’s going to turn into an annual report collection. We count on that subsequent 12 months’s report is not going to solely have completely different outcomes based mostly on a further 12 months of historic knowledge however we additionally will embrace new utility plans which have since been up to date. To make this sort of evaluation each simpler and extra accessible, it will be important for utilities to enhance transparency all through the longer term planning course of and to present clear explanations of their emission discount targets and calculations of progress.

Download: Tracking Decarbonization in the Southeast: 2019 Generation and CO2  Emissions report.
Webinar: SACE technical staff take a deeper dive into the report findings.

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