Solar Tribune

Climate Change Policy: Technological Solutions

The ability to even have a conversation about climate change policy is thanks to the impressive advancement that’s taken place in recent years in the technological sphere. By having new technologies available as tools that can prevent the future of greenhouse gas emissions that persist in the status quo, we’re able to shift the focus into how policy measures can be used to put those tools to work in the most optimal manner. That said, we’ve not yet exhausted all the technological opportunities out there that can shepherd in even greater carbon reductions and allow us to tackle climate change in newer and more innovative ways.

When focusing on climate change policies that can bring about new and improved technological solutions, some of the key areas include these:

 

Energy Storage Support

energy storage climate change technology policy

What is it: As intermittent renewable energy sources, namely solar and wind, become more concentrated on the grid, it becomes imperative that energy storage capacity is built out to allow for power generated during the time of peak generation (e.g., mid-afternoon when solar panels are receiving the most sunlight) to be used during times of peak demand (i.e., in the early evening hours when the sun isn’t shining but families are using energy-intensive devices). Public support for energy storage, such as R&D funding, tax incentives, and energy storage prescriptions for utilities, can push the use of energy storage to be more of a pervasive clean energy solution.

Is it enacted anywhere: The Union of Concerned Scientists notes that the U.S. government, specifically through the Department of Energy and Department of Defense, is funding advancement of electricity storage R&D.

In Favor of Energy Storage Support:

“A joint demonstration program between DOD and DOE will also be able to utilize existing test-bed infrastructure and provide key field data at both agencies that will help accelerate commercial deployment of long-duration energy storage technologies to increase energy resilience and security”- Senator Angus King of Maine

Against Energy Storage Support:

“Many implausible technological changes would have to happen before batteries will be capable of doing what clean-energy visionaries hope.”- Ross Marchand, policy director at the Taxpayers Protection Alliance

Read more:

U.S. Grid Energy Storage Factsheets – University of Michigan

Managing the Future of Energy Storage – Institute for Policy Integrity

Energy Storage for the Grid: Policy Options for Sustaining Innovation – MIT Energy Initiative

 

Distributed Energy Resources on the Grid

What is it: For many decades, the structure of the utility sector has been one of large-scale utility power generation at central locations that would then get transported over miles and miles of transmission and distribution wires until it reached its ultimate destination. But now, the saying in the industry commonly goes, the 21st century utility sector deserves a 21st century grid, and one of the key ways the grid is being reimagined and modernized is by adapting to a paradigm of more distributed energy resources (DERs). DERs can take many forms, such as smaller scale wind farms, solar panels installed on-site, or even non-generation sources like demand side management practices (where reducing energy use can be incentivized to supply can meet demand) or energy storage. By linking these various distributed assets together in a more complex, multi-nodal, and two-way grid system, clean energy use can be most efficiently spread across the grid to where and when it’s most needed.  But that comes with numerous policy and market considerations, including how and where DER asset owners can participate in wholesale markets, what responsibilities utilities and the wholesale providers who have to play, and more.

Is it enacted anywhere: In 2020, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) to allow for the aggregation of DERs to participate in their wholesale markets as any other energy generation source would.

In Favor of Distributed Energy Resources on the Grid:

“To fully optimize our investments in clean energy, distributed energy resources need to respond to the needs of the grid within a few seconds, if not milliseconds. This will allow distributed energy resources to perform like a virtual power plant that can be ramped up and down and that, unlike traditional power plants, can provide smart grid services like voltage stabilization. All of this is critical for phasing out fossil fuels on the timescale required to avoid the worst effects of climate change.” –Suzanne Russo, CEO, Pecan Street Inc. 

Against Distributed Energy Resources on the Grid:

“Any contract that gives DER aggregation responsibilities to the private sector or to third-parties will inherently threaten the system and local reliability.” Mark Esguerra, head of electric asset management at PG&E

Read more:

Distributed Energy Resources 101: Required Reading for a Modern Grid: Advanced Energy Economy

How Distributed Energy Resources Can Improve Resilience in Public Buildings: Three Case Studies and a Step-by-Step Guide—U.S. Department of Energy

Coordinating Distributed Energy Resources for Grid Services: A Case Study of Pacific Gas and Electric – National Renewable Energy Laboratory

 

Carbon Capture and Storage

carbon capture pollution technology climate change policy

What is it: The goal of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology is to harness the emissions that are emitted at the source (such as when coal is burned or oil is refined but before those emissions are able to leave the plant) and is then stored permanently in underground geological rock formations, typically. Policies to encourage the innovation and use of CCS mainly includes financial incentives through loan guarantees, tax credits, and other similar measures.

Is it enacted anywhere: According to the Brookings Institute, CCS has been incentivized by the U.S. federal government in both the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and the Energy Improvement and Extension Act of 2008.

In Favor of Carbon Capture and Storage:

“If coal is to be used, the only response- because it is the dirtiest of all fuels- is that we have to learn how to do carbon capture and storage and we have to learn how to do it quickly on a commercial scale.”- Nicholas Stern, former chief economist of the World Bank

Against Carbon Capture and Storage:

“The beguiling appeal of relying on future negative emission technologies is that they delay the need for stringent and politically challenging policies today – they pass the buck for reducing carbon on to future generations. But if these Dr. Strangelove technologies fail to deliver at the planetary scale envisaged, our own children will be forced to endure the consequences of rapidly rising temperatures and a highly unstable climate.”- Professor Kevin Anderson, deputy director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research

Read more:

Development of a Policy Framework for CO2 Carbon Capture and Storage in the States – Center for Climate and Energy Solutions

Policies to commercialize carbon capture and storage in the United States – Brookings Institute

Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) in the United States – Congressional Research Service

 

General R&D Funding

department of energy scientists research and development R&D

What is it: Generally speaking, one of the most important policy mechanisms the government is able to support is financially through research and development (R&D). R&D support can include funding development of clean energy technology, new and innovative business cases, and moon-shot attempts to provide leaps in the energy industry.

Is it enacted anywhere: The U.S. federal government has long supported R&D in the energy industry, going back to the early days of the U.S. Department of Energy (then the Atomic Energy Commission) and through to today via ARPA-E, the network of National Laboratories, and across individual offices of DOE.

In Favor of R&D Support:

“This is undoubtedly a tough problem. It is not obvious what the big breakthroughs will look like. Most likely we will need several solutions to each challenge. That is why we need to invest in lots of research and development, across all five areas, now”- Bill Gates, Iconic businessman, philanthropist, and climate change advocate

“In rural western Alaska, we do not have an interconnected electrical grid, so microgrids are the way to go. Each town has its own generators so we burn a lot of diesel to make electricity and it’d be nice to get off the petroleum market. The funding for tax kickbacks and support for research and implementation of microgrids and renewables is currently being slashed by the State. There are a lot of great ideas out here because we’re paying way more for electricity, but the Governor is pulling back the funds so we’re struggling to get it done.” – Todd Radenbaugh, Professor of Environmental Science at the University of Alaska Fairbanks

“Hydrogen is a central pillar of the energy transformation needed to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius. The ambitious yet realistic approach of harnessing hydrogen energy would enable a deep decarbonisation of transport, industry, and buildings, as well as a renewable energy production and distribution system. To achieve this vision, investors, industry, and government will need to intensify and coordinate their efforts.” – Guy Delbaen, Professor at Université libre de Bruxelles

Against R&D Support:

Ryan’s website calls for “getting Washington out of the business of picking winners and losers in the economy,” including the energy sector.- Paul Ryan, Former Speaker of the House, 2012 Republican candidate for Vice President

Read more:

Impact of Clean Energy R&D on the U.S. Power Sector – National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Renewable Energy R&D Funding History: A Comparison with Funding for Nuclear Energy, Fossil Energy, Energy Efficiency, and Electric Systems R&D – Congressional Research Service

Renewable Energy Technology Innovation Policy – International Renewable Energy Agency

 

This page is a part of the Solar Tribune Series on how individuals and policymakers can tackle climate change. Click here to see the overview of this series and see the other categories of action.

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