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Pieces of a Plan

Edward A. Reid Jr.
Posted On:
Sep 21, 2021 at 7:00 AM
Energy Policy, Climate Change

"A goal without a plan is just a wish." – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The Biden Administration has yet to release a plan to reach its stated CO2 emission reduction goals for 2030, 2035 and 2050. However, the Administration has taken several apparently disjointed actions which provide some hint of what the plan will involve. These actions present the potential of a very inconvenient and dangerous energy future for the US.

Intermittent renewable generation provided approximately 10.7% of US electricity generated for all uses in 2020. The Administration’s stated goal is to achieve 100% clean electricity by 2035, or within 13.3 years. The US currently has 1,117,475 MW of generating capacity, of which 66%, or 737,534 MW is fossil fueled and would need to be replaced by clean generators, primarily wind and solar. Assuming that the current shares of solar (~20%) and wind (~80%) continue into the future, total new intermittent renewable generating capacity of approximately 2,000,000 MW would be required to replace the entire fossil fuel generating fleet.

Wind turbines would constitute approximately 80% of the new generating capacity, requiring installation of 1,475,000 MW of wind turbine generating capacity. This would require production and installation of approximately 500,000 onshore 2 MW wind turbines, approximately 100,000 offshore 14 MW wind turbines, or some combination thereof. Solar PV collectors would constitute approximately 20% of the new generating capacity, requiring installation of approximately 590,000 MW of solar generating capacity, or approximately 1,475,000,000 solar collectors of 400W capacity. Note that these calculations are based on current electricity demand and consumption and make no allowances for the additional demand and consumption which would result from conversion to electric vehicles and the replacement of residential and commercial natural gas, propane and oil fueled appliances and equipment, most of which would likely occur after 2035.

The Administration has proclaimed that this transition would result in creation of millions of high paying union jobs, which implies that the production of the wind turbines and solar collectors would occur in the US. This would require preparation of numerous environmental impact statements by potential generation developers, review and approval of those impact statements by federal and state regulators and the issuance of building permits by federal and state authorities. This is currently a long, difficult and expensive process which could extend to, and likely beyond, 2025. This would also require the design, construction and commissioning of manufacturing facilities for the wind turbines and solar collectors, which could also extend to, and likely beyond, 2025.

Assuming such a schedule, achieving the Administration goal of 100% clean electricity by 2035 would require production and installation of approximately 100 wind turbines and approximately 400,000 solar collector panels per day. Also, each MW of generating capacity would require installation of 2-4 MW of grid-scale storage capacity to support the grid during multi-day periods of little or no generation due to weather conditions.

The scale of this effort might require the return of “Rosie the Riveter”. However, at this time, it all remains a wish.