New technology needed to meet utility decarbonization goals, experts warn


Dive brief:

  • Leaders and industry leaders at the National Clean Energy Week conference on Tuesday warned that the complete decarbonization of the U.S. electricity grid will require continued progress in critical areas such as long-term energy storage .
  • Legislation before Congress, including the two-party $ 1 trillion infrastructure package, could give a crucial boost to various clean energy and other technologies needed to take the power grid to the next level, executives said at the time. of a round table on Tuesday afternoon during the conference.
  • Public sector funding and tax credits are needed both to subsidize research into new energy technologies and to ensure that new sectors can operate profitably in the United States in the face of foreign competition, Eric said. Dresselhuys, CEO of ESS, Inc., which manufactures long-life batteries for energy storage in the utility industry.

Dive overview:

Dresselhuys, CEO of ESS Tech and a member of Tuesday’s panel discussing government policies needed to support breakthroughs in clean energy, estimated that current technology could take the utilities industry to 90% of its one grid target. carbon-free for the next decades.

But the remaining 10% will depend on further advancements in the sector, especially in the area of ​​long-term energy storage, which is needed to fully harness the potential of variable and weather-dependent renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, he said.

“Long-term storage will be critical for the transition to happen,” Dresselhuys said.

The CEO of ESS said the key to achieving this is a proposed stand-alone tax credit for the energy storage sector. The tax credit is part of the $3.$ 5,000 billion in additional large-scale infrastructure that Democrats are pushing in Congress, although Dresselhuys has said Democrats and Republicans support a stand-alone measure focused solely on the tax credit.

Gerry Anderson, executive chairman of DTE Energy and chairman of the Edison Electric Institute, offered a more conservative 80% estimate of how much current technology can take the utilities sector in terms of decarbonization.

While solar and wind, combined with nuclear, hydropower and natural gas can make the most of the industry, the remaining 20% ​​will depend on the further development of emerging energy technologies such as green hydrogen. , carbon capture and sequestration, and advanced nuclear reactors. , he said.

With a boost in federal funding and policies, the utility sector should be ready to deploy these new sources of energy in the 2030s, Anderson said.

As it stands, the country’s utility companies already generate 40% of their electricity from non-polluting carbon sources like nuclear, wind, hydropower and solar, he said. declared.

Electrification of the transportation sector, now the country’s largest carbon emitter, will also be crucial, Anderson said, highlighting the utility sector’s support for initiatives such as the deployment of charging stations across the country to support the growing production and sales of electric vehicles.

“We believe that with the right policies and technologies in place, a net zero future can be more than a goal – it has to be,” Anderson said. “In reality, wind, solar and energy storage can help us do a lot of it, and nuclear power and natural gas will help us get there faster, but these technologies alone will not be enough. “

While supporting increased public funding for research, Tom Dower, vice president of public policy at LanzaTech, which develops carbon recycling technology, said he did not want to see the federal government “choose.” . the winners and the losers “when it comes to new clean energy technologies.

Instead, Dower said the government should set carbon reduction targets and then let companies compete.

“We support a technologically neutral outcome” in which “the government does not pick specific winners and losers, but there are goals that are primarily about carbon reduction,” Dower said.

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