11/18/2018

California wants 100 percent renewables by 2045. Easier said than done

SB100 requires utilities to receive 50 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by the end of 2026. By Dec. 31, 2030, utilities would need to up that target to 60 percent. The bill passed the Senate 25-13 on Wednesday and the Assembly 44 to 33 on Tuesday.

Achieving the bill’s goals, however, won’t be as easy as setting them.

PG&E, the state’s biggest utility, said in a statement that the bill “fails to ensure affordability for our customers and is poorly timed.”

California’s many solar power plants already generate more electricity on many days than the state can use, forcing grid operators to block it from the grid. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, California wasted enough renewable power during the first seven months of 2018 to power San Francisco for 20 days.

And the state’s demand for electricity usually peaks in the late afternoon and early evening — precisely when solar power disappears from the grid. Although California’s wind farms generate most of their electricity at night, there remains a gap that conventional power plants burning natural gas must fill.

A recent report prepared for the California Energy Commission found that relying on zero-carbon sources for 100 percent of the state’s energy in 2050 would be “cost-prohibitive” without nuclear power, better ways to store large amounts of energy, and technology that can capture the greenhouse gas emissions from conventional power plants.

But California’s last nuclear power plant is scheduled to close by 2025, and large-scale energy storage technologies are just starting to reach the market. And while the technology to capture power plant emissions and lock them away in underground rock formations does exist, it is considered far too expensive for widespread use.

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