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May 2015

Getting to 100% renewable: dream or reality?

Oliver Knight's picture
© Abbie Trayler-Smith Panos Pictures UK Department for International Development via Creative Commons
​Attending the Future of Energy Summit last month, an annual event hosted by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, I was struck – for the second year running – by the rapid pace of cost reductions and innovation happening across the clean energy spectrum. With the news that a recent solar photovoltaics tender in Dubai obtained bids at less than US6c/kWh, to major investments in electricity storage and electric vehicles, to increased interest in demand-side management at the grid and consumer level, the message is clear: clean energy has most likely reached a crucial tipping point that will start to suck in increasing levels of investment. Some commentators also noted the opportune timing: with capital investment in upstream oil production sharply curtailed due to falling global prices, there is potentially a lot of financial capital looking for a home.
 
But perhaps one of the more interesting messages was the one coming from progressive regulators here in the U.S. The head of the California Public Utilities Commission, Michael Picker, noted that with renewable energy already supplying 40% of the state’s electricity a few days last year, the target for 50% renewables by 2030 is “not really a challenge”. Perhaps more interesting, he seemed very relaxed on reaching 100% renewables at some point in the future, on the back of strategic generation placement, transfers to neighboring states, and embedded storage. And note that we’re not talking about large hydropower here, which supplies between 6-12% of California’s electricity and is unlikely to increase.