We’re heading to a Low Carbon Future. No Administration Can Save Coal.

October 23, 2017

Above, Dan Kammen at about 1:00 minute in.  US companies are at a disadvantage without a price on carbon.

China is applying a price to carbon this year. It’s not because they love Polar bears.

Utility Dive:

While the Trump Administration is taking a number of steps to bolster coal-fired generation and rescind climate regulations, electric utilities should prepare for a very low-carbon future, former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz told Utility Dive at the National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas last week.

Despite the White House’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, “there is no going back on the fight against climate and the innovation prize is enormous,” Moniz said. “We are talking about multi-trillion-dollar markets. The real issue is that the U.S. needs to capture a big part of that market to keep its innovation edge.”

As part of the shift to low carbon energy, the world has added a terawatt of renewables capacity in the last decade, with about a quarter of it in the U.S. and about half in China, Moniz said. “China is moving fast for a variety of reasons, including its very real concern about conventional pollution, its intention to be a leader on climate change, and its effort to capture the opportunity in renewables manufacturing,” he added.

Very low carbon ahead

Utilities differ depending on how they are regulated, whether they are vertically integrated, and whether they are investor-owned, public power or cooperative utilities, he noted. But broadly, the first thing he would say to utility CEOs is: “expect to go to very low carbon.”

They may encounter “bumps in the road” and delays “but we are going there and if they are making long term decisions and capital allocations, they would be crazy to base them on a high carbon future,” Moniz said. “Projections now show the Clean Power Plan targets will be achieved nationally, even without the Clean Power Plan.”

Without the CPP, however, state energy profiles will differ significantly, he said. “I would say to utility leaders in those states that if there is a 32% reduction in emissions by 2030 nationally, the few states which do not move in that direction are going to be behind the eight ball competitively.”

Cleveland Plain Dealer:

CLEVELAND — The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) will oppose a federal initiative aimed at coming up with a quick fix to the competitive problems of old coal and nuclear plants owned by FirstEnergy and other traditional utilities.

PUCO on Friday voted to urge the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to reject a request from the Trump administration to quickly issue new rules aimed at helping the old power plants compete against new, ultra-efficient gas turbine power plants.

The problem is that nobody knows how much such a radical change to competitive markets would add to customer bills, said PUCO Chairman Asim Haque.

Haque said the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) had not conducted any cost analyses. He said PUCO has been working on a cost analysis of such changes with PJM Interconnection, the independent company that manages the high-voltage grid and operates wholesale power markets in Ohio and 12 other states.

FirstEnergy and other utilities earlier this year appealed to the White House and to the DOE for an emergency federal order to keep the plants operating. They argued the large coal and nuclear power plants were less vulnerable to disruption — because they store fuel on-site — and could therefore add to the “resiliency” of the regional and national power grids.


In the past century, the rapid uptake of new technologies has completely remade certain markets. Take the conversion from horses to cars for example; just over a century ago, a car would stick out on a crowded street. Thirteen years later, though, a horse-drawn carriage became the outlier.

According to Wood Mackenzie, the energy industry presents all the signs of an industry on the cusp of disruption. Positioned at the center of the shift is the “drive for deep carbonization and the falling cost of renewables,” according to the report. Essentially, the sharp drop in prices, as well as technological advancements, have created a perfect storm to upend energy normalcy.

“This is not just about decarbonization,” said Prajit Ghosh, head of power and renewables research at Wood Mackenzie. “It’s about rewriting the whole economy.”

The first qualifying marker is a vehicle — such as the smartphone — that can change how customers utilize services.

In the energy sector, the vehicle is less tangible than something you can hold in your hand: it’s the electrons shuttling through your wires to power everything you do. Natural gas has already overtaken coal as the largest source of power in the United States — a phenomenon the Trump administration sees as a significant disruption. Now renewables are encroaching on gas, and energy-efficiency gains have decreased demand for electricity.

Wood Mackenzie identifies rapid technological advancement as the second indicator of disruption. “’Rapid’ is the core word here,” said Ghosh, offering examples of the swift developments in higher masts and turbine size in the wind sector. Between 2007 and 2016, utility-scale PV systems also fell in price by almost 80 percent. Battery prices have fallen precipitously as well, having already hit cost projections for 2030.


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