A video abstract for the paper is available here.
The global carbon emissions budget over the next decades depends critically on the choices made by fast-growing emerging economies. Few studies exist, however, that develop country-specific energy system integration insights that can inform emerging economies in this decision-making process. High spatial- and temporal-resolution power system planning is central to evaluating decarbonization scenarios, but obtaining the required data and models can be cost prohibitive, especially for researchers in low, lower-middle income economies. Here, we use Nicaragua as a case study to highlight the importance of high-resolution open access data and modeling platforms to evaluate fuel-switching strategies and their resulting cost of power under realistic technology, policy, and cost scenarios (2014–2030). Our results suggest that Nicaragua could cost-effectively achieve a low-carbon grid (≥80%, based on non-large hydro renewable energy generation) by 2030 while also pursuing multiple development objectives. Regional cooperation (balancing) enables the highest wind and solar generation (18% and 3% by 2030, respectively), at the least cost (US$127 MWh−1). Potentially risky resources (geothermal and hydropower) raise system costs but do not significantly hinder decarbonization. Oil price sensitivity scenarios suggest renewable energy to be a more cost-effective long-term investment than fuel oil, even under the assumption of prevailing cheap oil prices. Nicaragua's options illustrate the opportunities and challenges of power system decarbonization for emerging economies, and the key role that open access data and modeling platforms can play in helping develop low-carbon transition pathways.
The large-scale utilization of electricity generated from biomass partnered with carbon capture technology — dubbed bioenergy with carbon capture and sequestration (BECCS) by the researchers — could result in greatly reduced emissions and a “carbon-negative” power system in the western US, according to new research from the University of California at Berkeley.
Study lead author, Daniel Sanchez, noted in a recent press release that this combination could potentially offset the carbon emissions associated with other sources as well — such as fossil fuel power plants, and the transportation sector (diesel- and gas-powered vehicles).
o be specific, the new research found that BECCS when combined with aggressive renewable energy deployment and fossil fuel–associated emissions reductions could result in a “carbon-negative power system” in Western North America by the year 2050 — with an up to 145% emissions reduction as compared against 1990 levels.
Reductions that significant could occur with as little as 7% of total electricity coming from BECCS, according to the new findings — which were arrived at via computer modeling.
In many of the other scenarios explored by the new research, the offsetting of carbon emissions provided by BECCS was more valuable to the electric system than the electricity produced itself was. Of course this kind of “value” is a relative one — as all values are. If governments don’t value the offsetting of carbon emissions, for instance,…
Those behind the new research admit that biomass + carbon capture is still a bit of an unknown in many ways, so the findings are tentative ones, until put into practicem that is — which is what the researchers want.
“There are a lot of commercial uncertainties about carbon capture and sequestration technologies,” stated researcher Sanchez. “Nevertheless, we’re taking this technology and showing that in the Western United States 35 years from now, BECCS doesn’t merely let you reduce emissions by 80% – the current 2050 goal in California – but gets the power system to negative carbon emissions: you store more carbon than you create.”
Possibly… that is. I admit to having some doubts about this, but interesting work nonetheless.
Image Credit: UC Berkeley
The need to mitigate climate change, safeguard energy security, and increase the sustainability of human activities is prompting a rapid and global transition from carbon-intensive fuels to renewable energy (IPCC 2014). Among renewable energy systems, solar energy has one of the greatest climate change mitigation potentials with life cycle emissions as low as 14 g CO2-eq KWh-1 (carbon dioxide equivalent per kilowatt hour; compare this to 608 g CO2-eq KWh-1 for natural gas). Solar energy embodies diverse technologies able to capture the sun’s thermal energy, such as concentrating solar power (CSP) systems, and photons using photovoltaics (PV). Solar energy systems are highly modular ranging from small-scale deployments (≤ 1 megawatt [MW]; e.g., residential rooftop modules, portable battlefield systems, solar water heaters) to centralized, utility-scale solar energy installations (USSE, ≥1 MW) where a large economy of scale can meet greater energy demands. Nonetheless, the diffuse nature of solar energy necessitates that large swaths of space or land be used to collect and concentrate solar energy into forms usable for human consumption, increasing concern over potential impacts on natural ecosystems, their services, and biodiversity therein. For example, at a capacity factor of 0.20, a single terawatt of USSE capacity scales to 142,857 km2, roughly the area of the state of New York, USA, providing challenges for the integration of potentially massive projects into complex and fragmented landscapes.
The decisions humans make about how much land to use, where, and for what end-use are drivers of Earth system processes. For example, changing the use of land or converting it from one land-cover type to another is a source of greenhouse gas emissions, which are released to the atmosphere when biomass, including soil, is disturbed or removed. How then do we decide when to convert a forest that serves as a carbon sink into a farm that feeds a community, or a farm into a PV park that electrifies a rural village? Innovation and policies directing sustainable pathways of land use for energy and food production can be utilized to address an increasing global population of which 1.5 billion today live without access to electricity. Energy poverty leads to a loss of human health and wellbeing and depressed economic and educational opportunities, particularly for women and children. Our research here is designed to demonstrate, quantify, and facilitate the potential of solar energy systems to address global problems related to climate change, energy access, and the sustainability of food systems, which are interconnected. This research draws from ecological field experiments, knowledge data discovery, geographic information systems, spatial and economic modeling, and is comprised of five interrelated projects:
Environmental co-benefits of solar energy
The Energy-Food-Water Cube: Capability and scalability in on-farm energy production
Global solar energy brightspots: Shinning light on the world’s energy insecure
The land-energy-food nexus in California's Central Valley
Limits of land: Global estimates of land for food and energy
Decarbonizing electricity production is central to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Exploiting intermittent renewable energy resources demands power system planning models with high temporal and spatial resolution. We use a mixed-integer linear programming model – SWITCH – to analyze least-cost generation, storage, and transmission capacity expansion for western North America under various policy and cost scenarios. Current renewable portfolio standards are shown to be insufficient to meet emission reduction targets by 2030 without new policy. With stronger carbon policy consistent with a 450 ppm climate stabilization scenario, power sector emissions can be reduced to 54% of 1990 levels by 2030 using different portfolios of existing generation technologies. Under a range of resource cost scenarios, most coal power plants would be replaced by solar, wind, gas, and/or nuclear generation, with intermittent renewable sources providing at least 17% and as much as 29% of total power by 2030. The carbon price to induce these deep carbon emission reductions is high, but, assuming carbon price revenues are reinvested in the power sector, the cost of power is found to increase by at most 20% relative to business-as-usual projections.
While a doctoral student in RAEL and ERG, Gang He was also a Visiting Faculty Affiliate for the China Energy Group, Energy Technologies Area, at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, as well as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Technology and Society, at Stony Brook University. He has worked with the China Energy Group since 2011. His work focuses on energy modeling, energy economics, energy and climate policy, energy and environment, domestic coal and power sectors and their key role in both the global energy supply and in international climate policy framework. He also studies other interdisciplinary aspects of global climate change and the development of lower-carbon energy sources.
Prior to Berkeley, he was a research associate with Stanford University's Program on Energy and Sustainable Development from 2008 to 2010.
OAKLAND, CA: JULY 27, 2016: GRID Alternatives has announced a partnership with the University of California, Berkeley’s Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL), to integrate research into GRID Alternatives projects providing solar power to communities around the world that lack access to electricity.
RAEL researchers will work with GRID Alternatives staff and partners to study off-grid solar projects by GRID Alternatives in Nicaragua, Nepal, and tribal communities in the United States. The research will evaluate project models and outcomes to inform energy access practices worldwide. RAEL is part of UC Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group and was founded by Professor Dan Kammen with a mission to design and implement environmentally sustainable development in culturally and socially appropriate ways. The GRID-RAEL partnership builds on more than four years of informal collaboration with UC Berkeley students interested in renewable energy.
Through its international program, GRID Alternatives has installed 70 solar PV systems in Nicaragua to-date, and continues to ensure the systems remain online and provide long-term benefits to residents. GRID Alternatives is also developing a 16-kilowatt solar-powered microgrid project in Dhapchung, Nepal to provide electricity to the community’s school, 40 families, and several businesses to aid in earthquake recovery and create a sustainable economy.
“GRID’s volunteer-based model has long provided a way for people interested in renewable energy work--from industry representatives to academics and the general public--to get hands-on with solar technology and see how it makes a difference for underserved communities,” said GRID Alternatives co-founder and CEO Erica Mackie. “This partnership will help us go a step further and contribute to a global body of knowledge around how to maximize impact and ensure that projects are sustainable for the long term.”
The partnership will provide direct and indirect benefits through GRID Alternatives’ energy access projects and help expand off-grid solar internationally. RAEL researchers will participate in and have access to beneficiaries of GRID Alternatives’ projects, and RAEL will work with GRID to secure funding for research projects as appropriate. RAEL will conduct system modeling and design research, technical potential analysis, qualitative surveys, and impact analysis with a focus on social and cultural issues.
Dr. Kammen is a member of GRID’s National Advisory Council, was recently appointed U.S. Science Envoy for the U.S. State Department, and has been a leading voice in renewable energy deployment globally.
“Getting electricity to the 1.2 billion people who still lack access is about more than cutting edge technologies. It’s about finding solutions that are culturally, socially and economically appropriate, and are really solving the problem they are intended to solve,” said Dr. Kammen, “Partnering with organizations like GRID doing this work on the ground is a great opportunity to study what’s working and why, and get that information to the people who can use it
ABOUT GRID ALTERNATIVES
GRID Alternatives is an international nonprofit solar installer bringing clean energy technology and job training to low-income families and underserved communities through a network of community partners, volunteers, and philanthropic supporters. GRID has installed more than 7,000 rooftop solar systems with a combined installed capacity of nearly 25MW, saving $192 million in lifetime electricity costs, preventing more than 537,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions, and providing more than 27,000 people with solar training. For more information, visit www.gridalternatives.org
Based at the University of California, Berkeley, since 1999, RAEL has focused on systems approaches to fostering sustainable development at the household, community, and national levels. With a mixture of students, post-doctoral fellows and visiting scholars and practitioners, RAEL is currently active in the Balkans, China, Central America, East Africa, Southeast Asia, across North America in the design of technical and analytic approaches to clean energy systems. For more information see rael.berkeley.edu.
Joining RAEL in October 2015:
Dr. Deborah A. Sunter is currently a AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow at the Department of Energy: Advanced Manufacturing Office. Her current interests include renewable energy systems, advanced manufacturing techniques, and the interaction of science and policy in academia, industry and government.
She received a B.S in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Cornell University. There she developed a nanosatellite mission that was successfully launched into orbit. Although fascinated by aerospace applications, the time-critical issue of global warming shifted her focus in graduate school to explore renewable energy. Specializing in computational modeling of thermo-physics in multiphase systems, she developed a novel solar absorber tube and received her Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. The need for a global environmental solution led her to do research abroad in both Japan and China.
Dr. Sunter’s JHU email is firstname.lastname@example.org. She teaches 425.625 Solar Energy: Science, Technology and Policy.
Kenji is a Ph.D. student with the Goldman School of Public Policy and a researcher in the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory. His current research interests include empirical studies and quantitative modeling on the effectiveness of renewable energy policies in developing and developed countries for effective decision making. He is also interested in developing better tools for quantitative assessment of the multiple benefits of climate policies such as energy access, job creation, and technology development and transfer.
Kenji has more than 10 years of professional experiences in the area of Japan’s and international environmental policies as a Deputy Director for Market-based Climate Policy of the Japanese Ministry of the Environment, a Managing Director of the Global Environment Centre Foundation, etc. For example, he has spearheaded and managed various government energy incentive programs for funding energy efficient and renewable energy projects in Japan as well as in Southeast Asia and Africa under the Joint Crediting Mechanism, bilateral cooperation scheme between 14 countries and Japanese Government. He has also initiated and led international cooperation initiatives on environmental policy planning, capacity building, and technology transfer focused on low-carbon city development with Japanese municipalities for Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam), Vientiane (Lao PDR), and other cities. He has negotiated at COP 18 and 19 of the UNFCCC as an international negotiator of the Japanese delegation on technology transfer. Outside of environmental policies, he is a creator and a leading trainer of policy analysis training courses for Japanese policy professionals.
He holds an MPP with the Smolensky Prize (the Best Advanced Policy Analysis (master’s thesis)) from UC Berkeley, for which Dan Kammen was his APA advisor. Kenji has a MEng and a BEng in Chemical Engineering from University of Tokyo.
Ian is a National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellow in the Energy and Resources Group and a member of the inaugural “Environment and Society: Data Science for the 21st Century” National Science Foundation Research Traineeship (NRT) cohort. His research interests lie at the intersection of energy systems, climate change adaptation, and global health. He is a member of the Next Generation Ecosystem Experiments Arctic team, investigating biogeochemical factors governing energy fluxes in arctic tundra environments from the plant scale to the model grid-cell scale. He is also interested in developing better tools for characterizing seasonal snowpack variation, in order to improve forecasts of streamflow, water availability, and hydropower production. Ian serves as project manager for Tiny House in My Backyard, a student project to design and build mobile, affordable, and sustainable net-zero energy housing on the Berkeley Global Campus. Prior to arriving at UC Berkeley, he received his BA from Harvard University in Applied Mathematics and spent three years modeling trends in global injury rates at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. Outside of academia, Ian is a member of the Tahoe Backcountry Ski Patrol, and he writes about mountain adventures and environmental issues on his blog at TheInertia.com.