Study Confirms Need for Firm Clean Power

Three teams of energy system experts, using three different optimization models of California’s electricity system, sought to quantify the costs of a number of different future scenarios for new sources of clean, reliable electric power. Groups from Princeton and Stanford Universities ran the first two models; the third was run by a group from the consulting firm Energy and Environmental Economics (E3). Each model sought to estimate not only how much electricity would cost under a variety of scenarios, but also the physical implications of building the decarbonized grid. How much new infrastructure would be needed? How fast would the state have to build it? How much land would that infrastructure require? Although each of these models offered their own depictions of the California electricity system and independently explored the ways it would be optimized, they all used the same data with respect to past conditions and they all used the same estimations of future technology costs. Despite distinct approaches to the calculations, all the models yielded very similar conclusions.

The unanimous findings?  California needs clean firm power, and so does the rest of the world.  Three detailed models of the future of California’s power system all show that California needs carbonfree electricity sources that don’t depend on the weather, in order to both achieve decarbonization and maintain costs at or about the current price.

On May 10, 2021, as part of the Stanford Energy Seminar, Jane C.S. Long and Sally Benson, both part of the Stanford team, presented their findings by Zoom. (The recording of the session will be posted.) They reported that all three teams found that because of the problems with intermittency of renewables, the large geographic footprint needed for the siting of renewables plants and the difficulties of expanding transmission, that the overall system costs are only maintained when there is a mix of renewables and firm clean power, even if that firm clean power (which could be new nuclear, geothermal or gas with carbon capture and sequestration), is more expensive.  That extra cost per kilowatt is dwarfed by the extra system integration costs of an all renewables option.

Read the report hosted at the EDF website, “California needs clean firm power, and so does the rest of the world,” by JCS Long, E Baik, JD Jenkins, C Kolster, K Chawla, A Olson, A Cohen, M Colvin, S M Benson, RB Jackson,DG Victor, and SP Hamburg.