You may have read in the news recently of the bill mandating 100% renewable energy in California by 2045. This follows Massachusetts legislators introducing the same goal last year with a deadline of 2035.
On the surface, this sounds like a positive move for the state as it would increase sustainability and provide more eco-friendly energy production, however evidence suggests that 100% renewable might not be the best way to decarbonize the grid. Since decarbonization is the only way to meet the mandatory Climate Change Policy targets set to cut greenhouse gas emissions, this could potentially be a big problem.
Although well intended, taking such a radical, all or nothing approach to reaching these emissions goals could close off the idea of implementing other solutions. There is still a lot that is unknown about the best way to approach this challenge. Scientists could end up choosing a single emissions-reducing tactic that should lead to the decarbonization of the grid with no certainty that it will work, rather than choose a multifaceted approach, and incorporate innovative technologies as they come along. Experts in the field are not even sure if the 100% renewables approach is the fastest, cheapest, or easiest way to decarbonize the grid.
A well-known disadvantage of solar and wind power is their inconsistencies, often at peak times of energy consumption. As storage solutions are still in the very early stages of testing there is no reliable way to store excess energy generated off-peak. Consequently, it would be necessary to build extra capacity to compensate. Any excess energy would then, unfortunately, be wasted. The more solar that goes back onto the grid without a productive use, the more curtailment any additional solar facilities will face. Value declines at this point which makes moving forward with other solar options less attractive in the future.
It’s true to say a zero-carbon mandate for the Californian market would be a powerful driver for the development of advanced storage technologies, but it would be important to update technology as it becomes available and allow flexible integration rather than a rigid system.
There is a delicate balance between going full steam ahead with renewable energy initiatives and taking the time to research, test, and consider all options. This may not be the most expedient way to reach our goals, but it might ensure that investments aren’t wasted in the future, further hindering progress. Choosing one pathway alone would mean shutting out other potential decarbonization solutions.