Newsletter: How many renewables does it take to replace a nuclear plant?

Does California have the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time?

A red neon sign that says all of the electricity now in use in this facility of Argonne National Laboratory is atomic power
(Dan Meyers/Unsplash)
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Two things can be true at once:

  • California needs gigawatts of clean, on-demand power to keep the lights on.
  • California is shutting down its largest producer of clean, on-demand power.

The latter refers to Diablo Canyon, the Central Coast nuclear power plant that will cease operations in a few years. When utility PG&E and environmental groups agreed to do that in 2016, they promised it would be replaced by clean energy.

Now, six years later, grid regulators are working on a plan to ensure that happens. The stakes are even higher after last summer’s rolling blackouts showed what an electricity supply crunch looks like.

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The regulators’ latest replacement plan calls for 11.5 gigawatts of mostly clean new power generation, up from an estimate of 7.5 gigawatts earlier this year, Jeff St. John reports.

This includes a carve-out for long-duration storage and resources such as geothermal that can produce carbon-free power around the clock, as the soon-to-close nuclear plant does.

Gobs of renewables just waiting to hatch

Good news: The 671 gigawatts of wind and solar in line to get built around the U.S. add up to more than half the estimated renewables needed for Biden’s zero-carbon electricity goal.

Bad news: Many of those projects are struggling to get built, due to problems with how this country plans and builds transmission lines.

That’s from a new analysis of the large power projects waiting to get onto the transmission grid. Jeff St. John volunteered to read it for us and selected five key takeaways, illustrated with colorful graphics. Thanks, Jeff!

Net-zero goals are old news. Check out true zero”

Corporate pledges to go net-zero obscure the fact that these companies still rely on fossil-fuel burning, even if clean power credits match their consumption on paper. You can’t run the whole grid on renewable credits because you have to match demand every second regardless of how much solar or wind power you have.

Google is pushing forward with 24/7 matching of consumption with clean supplies. With the right tools to trace energy production in real time, this approach could supersede the current system, contributor Steve Hoy argues:

It’s only a matter of time before certificates and offsets go the way of the fax, taking the old world of net-zero goals with it.”

Check out his vision for how the business world arrives at true zero” emissions.

Not clean, but cleaner

Barrels of oil may be fungible, but the emissions required to produce them are not. Jason Deign digs into how oil and gas companies can clean up their production if a carbon tax pressured them to — and how companies are already doing this in places with carbon taxes in effect.

The issue for these companies is that they sell fuels, not carbon. The carbon is just an inconvenient byproduct. Getting rid of this byproduct isn’t cost-effective without a functioning carbon market, however. If oil and gas companies get charged more for carbon emissions, then they will have a greater incentive to invest in efficiency improvements and reduction technologies.

Julian Spector is senior reporter at Canary Media.