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By Charles F. Kutscher, University of Colorado Boulder and Jeffrey Logan, University of Colorado Boulder

In the summer of 1988, scientist James Hansen testified to Congress that carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels was dangerously warming the planet. Scientific meetings were held, voluminous reports were written, and national pledges were made, but because fossil fuels were comparatively cheap, little concrete action was taken to reduce carbon emissions.

Then, beginning around 2009, first wind turbines and then solar photovoltaic panels decreased enough in cost to become competitive in electricity markets. More installations resulted in more “learning curve” cost reductions – the decrease in cost with every doubling of deployment. Since 2009, the prices of wind and solar power have decreased by an astonishing 72% and 90%, respectively, and they are now the cheapest electricity sources – although some challenges still exist.

With the planet facing increasingly intense heat waves, drought, wildfires and storms, a path to tackle the climate crisis became clear: Transition the electric grid to carbon-free wind and solar and convert most other fossil fuel users in transportation, buildings and industry to electricity.

The U.S. is headed in that direction. Early projections suggest the world just wrapped up a record year of renewable electricity growth in 2021, following a record 33,500 megawatts of solar and wind electricity installed in the U.S. in 2020, according to BloombergNEF data. Even faster growth is expected ahead, especially given the Biden administration’s plans to tap high-value offshore wind resources. But will it be fast enough?

The Biden administration’s goal is to have a carbon emissions-free grid by 2035. One recent study found that the U.S. will need to nearly triple its 2020 growth rate for the grid to be 80% powered by clean energy by 2030. (As difficult as that may sound, China reportedly installed 120,000 megawatts of wind and solar in 2020.)

The foundation of this transition is a dramatic change in the electric grid itself.

3 ways to bring wind and solar into the grid

Hailed as the greatest invention of the 20th century, our now-aging grid was based on fundamental concepts that made sense at the time it was developed. The original foundation was a combination of “base load” coal plants that operated 24 hours a day and large-scale hydropower.

Beginning in 1958, these were augmented by nuclear power plants, which have operated nearly continuously to pay off their large capital investments. Unlike coal and nuclear, solar and wind are variable; they provide power only when the sun and wind are available.

Converting to a 21st-century grid that is increasingly based on variable resources requires a completely new way of thinking. New sources of flexibility – the ability to keep supply and demand in balance over all time scales – are essential to enable this transition.

Wind turbines next to a road on a rugged ridge.
Pine Tree Wind Farm near Tehachapi, California, provides renewable power to Los Angeles. Dennis Schroeder/NREL

There are basically three ways to accommodate the variability of wind and solar energy: use storage, deploy generation in a coordinated fashion across a wide area of the country along with more transmission, and manage electricity demand to better match the supply. These are all sources of flexibility.

Storage is now largely being provided by lithium-ion batteries. Their costs have plummeted, and new storage technologies are being developed.

Expanded transmission is especially valuable. When the Northeast is experiencing peak electric demand in the early evening, there is still sun in the West. And, with more transmission, the large wind resources in the center of the country can send electricity toward both coasts. Transmission studies have shown that stronger interconnections among the country’s three power grids are highly beneficial.

Making buildings more efficient and controlling their demand can also play a big role in cleaning up the grid. Buildings use 74% of U.S. electricity. Interconnected devices and equipment with smart meters can reduce and reshape a building’s power use.

Innovations that make 100% clean power possible

Many analysts believe the U.S. can cost-effectively and reliably operate a power grid with 80% to 90% clean electricity, but decarbonizing the last 10% to 20% will be notably more challenging. While short-duration storage, lasting four hours or less, is becoming ubiquitous, we will likely need to provide power during some periods when wind and solar resources are at low levels (what the Germans call dunkelflaute, or “dark doldrums”). An expanded national transmission network will help, but some amount of long-duration storage will likely be needed.

Numerous options are being explored, including alternative battery technologies and green hydrogen.

Flow batteries are among the promising approaches that we are working on at the Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute at the University of Colorado. In a typical design, liquid electrolyte flows between two storage tanks separated by a membrane. The tanks can be scaled up in size corresponding to the desired storage duration.

Green hydrogen is a potential storage option for very long durations. It is produced by splitting water molecules with an electrolyzer powered by renewable electricity. The hydrogen can be stored underground (or in above-ground tanks) and either burned in combustion turbines or converted back to electricity in fuel cells. Green hydrogen is currently very expensive but is expected to become more affordable as the cost of electrolyzers decreases.

In addition, new business, market design and grid operator models are emerging. Community solar gardens, for example, allow homeowners to purchase locally produced solar electricity even if their own roofs are not suitable for solar panels. Microgrids are another business model becoming common on campuses and complexes that produce electricity locally and can continue to operate if the grid goes down. Clean microgrids are powered by renewable energy and batteries.

A man stands on a roof with solar panels and a community in the background.
Bishop Richard Howell stands near some of the 630 solar panels on the roof of his Minneapolis church. The community solar project provides clean energy to the community. AP Photo/Jim Mone

Innovative market designs include time-of-use rates that encourage electricity use, such as for charging electric vehicles, when renewable electricity is plentiful. Expanded balancing area coordination draws on variable solar and wind resources from a wide region to provide a smoother overall supply. Improved grid operations include advanced forecasting of wind and solar to minimize wasted power and reduce the need for costly standby reserves. Dynamic line rating allows grid operators to transmit more electricity through existing lines when favorable weather conditions permit.

Across the economy, greater attention to energy efficiency can enable power sector transformation, minimizing costs and improving reliability.

Nuclear power is also essentially carbon-free, and keeping existing nuclear plants running can make the transition to renewables easier. However, new nuclear plants in the U.S. are very expensive to build, have long construction times and may prove too costly to operate in a manner that would help firm variable solar and wind.

In our view, the urgency of climate change demands an all-out effort to address it. Having a 2035 emissions goal is important, but the emissions reduction path the U.S. takes to reach that goal is critical. The No. 1 need is to minimize adding carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. The world already has the tools to get the grid 80% to 90% carbon-free, and technical experts are exploring a wide range of promising options for achieving that last 10% to 20%.

About the Authors

Charles F. Kutscher, Fellow and Senior Research Associate, Renewable & Sustainable Energy Institute, University of Colorado Boulder and Jeffrey Logan, Associate Director of Energy Policy and Analysis, Renewable & Sustainable Energy Institute, University of Colorado Boulder

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

This post was originally published on source site

reduce hurry and wait syndrome_hero


Have you ever been asked to drop everything to complete a seemingly urgent task, and then found that the task wasn’t so urgent after all?

Not long ago, one of our clients gave us three days to put together a proposal to help with a very large and complex reorganization. Although we had been talking about the possibility of working on this project for months, the client suddenly felt that it was time to get started. We didn’t want to miss the opportunity, so we put in some late nights and did what was needed to craft a reasonably good document. And then we waited.

Two weeks later, the client sent a note saying that she hadn’t yet had time to read the proposal but would get to it soon. And in the meantime, she was still trying to secure agreement on the reorganization with her boss and other key corporate function heads.

Obviously, something doesn’t add up with this picture. Why did the client give us only three days and convey such a sense of urgency if she wasn’t really ready to move forward? Was she being dishonest or was she deluding herself about the situation — or was something else going on?

Having seen many variations on this “hurry up and wait” dynamic over the past few years let me suggest a possible explanation.  I’ll also offer some ideas about what to do if you are falling into this trap, whether it’s as the perpetrator or the victim.

The starting point for understanding this issue is the dramatic acceleration of today’s business culture. Because we live in a world of continual, real-time communication from anywhere in the world, we’ve gotten used to assuming that everything happens instantaneously. As such, it’s almost unthinkable for managers today to give an assignment (whether to a consultant or subordinate) and say, “take your time” or “think about what it will take and let me know when you can get to it.” Instead, the almost unconscious default position is to push for rapid action.

Intersecting with this drive for speed is the reality that many organizations have slimmed down over the last few years. But while they have reduced costs and taken out layers of managers and staff, they often haven’t eliminated the work that those people were doing. So the surviving managers are expected to do more and more, and do it faster and faster.

The result of trying to drive more work through fewer people, and at greater speed, is a jamming of the queue.  There is simply no way to get everything done in the accelerated time frames that many managers expect.  So while their intentions are to move quickly on things, the reality is that you can only force so much work through the eye of the needle.

The problem is that some tasks or assignments really do need to be carried out quickly. But unless they are treated differently, they get caught up in the same bottleneck with everything else. It’s like the common phenomenon that happens in hospital laboratories:  Doctors want test results from their patients to be done right away, so they label them as “stat” (which means “immediate”).  When the lab gets too many stat requests however, everything is treated the same, which means that nothing is done immediately.

In our case, the manager really did want to move quickly with the reorganization. But then she was inundated with other tasks, requests, meetings, and priorities and had trouble finding the time to read our proposal. She also thought that she could get her boss and other executives aligned on the reorganization, but couldn’t find the time to get them all together, or even meet with many of them one-on-one. So while she genuinely intended rapid action, she just couldn’t pull it off.

Obviously there is no easy solution for dealing with “hurry up and wait” syndrome. But if you feel that this dynamic is affecting your team’s work, here are two suggestions:

First, put a premium on eliminating unnecessary or low value work. Are there repetitive activities that your team is doing that don’t make a difference, or could be done less often or with less effort? One overloaded manager, for example, got permission from her boss to report her team’s activities on a monthly, instead of weekly, basis. That change gave her team more bandwidth to handle urgent projects.

Second, inject more discipline into the prioritization of projects and tasks.  Work with your team to identify those few things (and not more than a few) that really do need to be done with speed. And when a new request comes in, make explicit decisions about where it fits in the list of priorities – and if necessary, challenge the assumption that it needs to be done right away.

Given the desire for speed that permeates today’s business culture, we’ll all probably experience hurry up and wait syndrome at one time or another. If we can do a better job of prioritizing, however, we might face it less often.

The post Two Ways to Reduce “Hurry Up and Wait” Syndrome appeared first on HBR Ascend.

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