Hawaii and California took major steps towards 100 per cent renewable energy in the last few days in two initiatives that will demonstrate that high levels of renewable energy is indeed suitable for major economies.
Hawaii’s target, which the local utility says can be met by 2040, is interesting because it is an isolated grid, or rather a series of five isolated island grids. The significance of California’s push is the scale of its economy – it is ranked the fifth or sixth biggest economy in the world: So if it can be done there ….
And it is also significant because while the Trump administration continues to push back against renewables, and promises to revive the coal industry, towns, cities and states are heading in the opposite direction. And one is on the right side of history, and costs, and it ain’t the Trump administration.
The Hawaii initiative took a major step forward last week when the Hawaiian Public Utilities Commission endorsed the plan laid out by the local utility, Hawaiian Electric, which says it can reach 100 per cent renewable energy five years ahead of the mandated target set by the state legislature.
The first step is to take the island of Molokai to 100 per cent renewables by 2020. It says this will then serve as a blueprint for the rest of the state and “help us obtain real world experience in running an island grid with 100 per cent renewables.”
The official target is to get the whole state to 40 per cent renewables by 2030, but Hawaii Electric says it will be at 48 per cent by 2020, and 72 per cent by 2030.
The utility’s enthusiasm to accelerate the renewable plans, rather than holding them back, is yet another sign that the reins of this transition are now being seized by the energy networks themselves.
In Australia there are signs of the same shift. Transgrid, the major transmission company, said last week that 100 per cent renewable energy is both feasible and affordable. Numerous other networks are talking openly of grids with high renewable penetration – as a good thing – and renewables-baed micrograms to cut costs.
In the political arena though, progress is stymied by comments from the likes of prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, in playing to the right wing, who suggest even the 42 per cent renewable targets contemplated by Dr Alan Finkel’s energy blueprint are “reckless”.
This from a man who once openly endorsed 100 per cent renewable scenarios and who has gone a fair way down the track with a large installation of solar and storage in his Point Piper home.
The California target is being driven by governor Jerry Brown. Last week, the California Utilities and Energy Committee approved a bill called SB100, which would increase California’s current renewable portfolio standard to 60 per cent by 2030 and establish a goal of meeting 100 per cent renewable energy by 2045.
The US web site Utility Dive notes that this makes California the second state, after Hawaii to strive for 100 per cent renewables. But unlike Hawaii, California’s 100 per cent renewable energy goal is not a mandate.
It said that while the move to 100 per cent renewables in a state with a strong oil industry would be complex, eight California cities already pledged to transition to 100 per cent renewable energy, and consumers are clamoring for cleaner energy by defecting to community choice aggregation programs.
Last month, Utility Dive noted, Santa Barbara became the 37th city in the United States to adopt the 100 per cent renewable energy goal with a target date set for 2030.
Interestingly, Hawaii Electric has dumped plans to use gas-fired generation as an interim measure, and has also rejected proposals to link the islands with transmission cable, saying they are not necessary and their benefits are not clear.
“Achieving the groundbreaking 100 per cent goal will require …. our entire community working together to make the difficult decisions needed to achieve this clean energy future for our state,” it says in its blueprint.
“All stakeholders—policymakers, government agencies, customers, and private organizations with interests in energy, transportation, agriculture, water use and land use—need to be involved in developing and executing clear policies to guide our choices.
“Increased energy efficiency, the willingness of communities to accept projects, supportive and adaptive public policies, and partnerships to take advantage of new and improved technology are critical. All of us must support the vision of a future without fossil fuels.”
The capacity of solar on the islands will more than double to 1,465MW and energy storage and demand response will also play a big role, with 165,000 private energy storage systems linked by 2030 to provide backup for individual homes and the grid as a whole.
Hawaii Electric said it will retain flexibility in the design of its 100 per cent renewable energy grid to ensure that “today’s choices don’t crowd out future technology and potentially lower pricing”, which it said is imperative to preserve the ability to achieve Hawai‘i’s clean energy goals at reasonable costs for customers.
It said the 100 per cent renewable grid would also provide a solid foundation for the electrification of transportation, including electric vehicles, docks, airports, and warehouses as well as possible hydrogen fuel cell alternatives, reducing further the use of fossil fuels for ground transportation.
“And again applying a bigger picture view, electrification of transportation can also help integrate more renewable energy, lower total energy costs for customers, and contribute to a lower carbon footprint,” it says.
“Electrification of transportation can also influence the sizing of customer-owned generation to recharge batteries and will also increase the opportunity for greater demand response resources to offset utility investments in storage or generation that would otherwise be needed.”
Giles Parkinson is a journalist of 30 years experience, a former Business Editor and Deputy Editor of the Financial Review, a columnist for The Bulletin magazine and The Australian, and the former editor of Climate Spectator.