California faces a very tough choice. Politicians and many environmental advocates would like to solve the need to eliminate emissions by building renewables as much as possible, and allowing natural gas (and its well-heeled donors) to thrive and grow hidden behind the curtain of renewables. They’d prefer that the back door given to natural gas to stabilize the grid not be given that much attention—or the fact that spending double or triple to let everyone get into the action, renewables, gas and battery manufacturers—not get much focus.
Unfortunately, these charades don’t stand up to any economic analyses for the most effective or even cost-effective pathway to full decarbonization and three separate analyses all show the same result. Despite distinct approaches to the calculations, all three models, done by froups from Princeton University, Stanford University, and Energy and Environmental Economics (E3), a San Francisco-based consulting firm, yielded very similar conclusions. The most important of these was that solar and wind can’t do the job alone (as some environmentalists want you to think).
Instead, the modeling finds that almost any combination of firm clean power—existing nuclear, geothermal, advanced nuclear or even natural gas with carbon capture and sequestration—could deliver a 100% carbon-free electricity supply with generation and transmission supply costs of about 7–10 cents per kilowatt-hour, which compares well with the current average of 9 cents per kilowatt-hour, and is about one-third less than the cost of an all-wind-and-solar approach.
Read more in Issues in Science & Technology’s Clean Firm Power is the Key to California’s Carbon-Free Energy Future, by By Armond Cohen, Arne Olson, Clea Kolster, David G. Victor, Ejeong Baik, Jane C.S. Long, Jesse D. Jenkins, Kiran Chawla, Michael Colvin, Robert B. Jackson, Sally M. Benson, Steven P. Hamburg, published March 24, 2021. Also see the full report, published by EDF and available at edf.org/cleanfirmpower.