As I shared with you last month, to achieve the Biden administration’s goal of 100 percent carbon pollution-free electricity by 2035, we will have to replace 975 megawatts of coal and natural gas-produced electricity for most of the Wisconsin electric cooperative footprint. I will continue to use that footprint as a basis for this discussion. Two of the most prominent studies that seek to demonstrate how to accomplish Biden’s goal were done by Wood Mackenzie and Princeton University.
The 2019 Wood Mackenzie report “estimates the cost of full decarbonization of the U.S. power grid at $4.5 trillion, given the current state of technology—nearly as much as what the country has spent, since 2001, on the war on terror. From a budgetary perspective, the cost is staggering at $35,000 per household—that equates to nearly $2,000 per year if assuming a 20-year plan.”
The Wood Mackenzie report looks at transitioning only the electric sector to 100 percent renewable energy. The Princeton University study estimates the cost for completely converting the entire energy sector, as well as transportation and more, to net-zero carbon emissions but still comes in with a much lower price tag. For the purpose of this discussion, I will be using the Princeton University’s report.
Ten Princeton researchers, along with eight external collaborators, put together the Princeton University’s Net-Zero America report on potential pathways, infrastructure, and impacts and considers all of the aspects to achieve net-zero including homes, vehicles, industry, electricity production, and more. I will focus only on the electric sector since that is what we do on your behalf.
This report is designed to outline a way for our country to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 or sooner, using state-of-the-art modeling tools relying on five different technologically and economically plausible energy system pathways. According to this report, “Building a net-zero America will require immediate, large-scale mobilization of capital, policy and societal commitment.” I will provide a brief overview of that plan. We’ll look at the four major tenets they lay out for a clean electricity sector in future columns.
For the Clean Electricity Sector of the Princeton Net-Zero America report, four tenets would need to be accomplished: wind and solar, nuclear, natural gas combined cycle with carbon capture and storage, and flexible resources. Here is what the report specifically calls for:
Wind and Solar
- Rapidly site 10s–100s of gigawatts per year and sustain them for years. From 2021–2030 the investment in wind would be $430 billion, and the investment in solar would be $380 billion.
- 3x to 5x today’s transmission line equaling a 60% increase in transmission lines across the country costing $350 billion.
- Site up to 250 new 1-gigawatt reactors or 3,800 Small Modular Reactors, cost not calculated
- Spent fuel disposal
Natural Gas Combined Cycle with Carbon Capture Storage
- 300-plus 750-megawatt plant conversions costing an estimated $10 billion for storage alone, not including modifications of the plants
- Hydrogen combustion turbines
- Large flexible loads: electrolysis, electric boilers, direct air capture
- 50-180 gigawatts of 6-hour batteries
We will take a deeper dive into each of the four basic tenets of the Net-Zero America report in the coming months, focusing on what this comprehensive plan envisions. We’ll compare what the nation and electric cooperatives will have to do to transition to an electric sector that is carbon pollution-free by 2035. Next month we will look at wind and solar and see the opportunities and challenges they pose.