New York, Hawaii, California Race to 50 Percent Renewables

By John Addison

John Addison is the author of two books - Save Gas, Save the Planet that details the future of transportation and Revenue Rocket about technology partner strategy. CNET, Clean Fleet Report, and Meeting of the Minds have published over 300 of his articles. Prior to being a writer and speaker, he was in partner and sales management for technology companies such as Sun Microsystems. Follow John on Twitter @soaringcities.

Sep 13, 2016 | Resources | 0 comments

California and New York will meet 50 percent of their electricity demand with renewables by 2030. It is the law. Hawaii will exceed 50 percent by 2030 as it pursues its 2045 legal requirement of 100 percent.

In all three states, it took a disaster to rethink their entire approach to energy. All three states are using different innovative technology to clean the air, reduce greenhouse emissions that damage their future, and become independent of the need for fuel.

With wind and solar power being added, often for less than four cents per kilowatt hour, the renewable transition is accelerating. In addition to renewables, energy efficiency, storage, microgrids and software are also critical enablers of the transition from fossil fuels with massive emissions to clean energy.

With 132 Islands, Hawaii must use DER

With 132 islands in the Hawaiian archipelago, this state is more advanced in distributed energy resources (DER) than any other state. It is natural to use nearby solar and wind, rather than install high-voltage power lines connecting some distant centralized plant. Hawaii has lead in installing large grid-connected batteries, because they are less expensive than transmission and distribution alternatives.

My first visit to Hawaii was filled with beautiful lush forests, breathtaking beaches and iconic double rainbows. Threatened coral reefs, changing rain patterns, intense hurricanes, coastal flooding and disappearing beaches are impacting Hawaiians. In the future, some of its islands will disappear below rising seas. Hawaiians have taken decisive action by declaring that all electricity will be renewable by 2045.

Hawaii has the third-lowest per capita energy use in the nation thanks to mild weather and the nation’s highest electricity rates. It is so expensive to transport coal and LNG thousands of miles to the island that electricity from oil is cheaper than natural gas and coal. Least expensive is solar energy and wind power, which require zero fuel, just sunlight and wind. Currently, only 16 percent of Hawaii’s electricity is from renewables, 70 percent from oil and 14 percent from coal.

Leading the other islands, Maui now meets 36 percent of its electricity needs with wind power. Because wind is intermittent, this large percentage was a challenge for Maui Electric Company. A 10 MW large battery system from Younicos meet the utility’s need for reserves and rapid curtailment without adding any unneeded oil or coal generation. Where other states can deal with intermittency by exchanging electricity across the region, each island in Hawaii must balance supply and demand at all time. Storage is critical.

Over 40,000 rooftops and hundreds of large projects were solar by the end of 2014 and the number continues to grow. SolarCity has offerings that immediately pay for themselves; one bundle includes solar, Tesla battery storage, Nest thermostat, and an electric smart hot water heater all bundled into an affordable monthly charge.

The transition to renewables is helping Hawaii’s economy. In 2011, energy costs were 11 percent of GDP; five years later, only eight percent.

New York – Reforming the Energy Vision

Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) plan mandates utilities to focus on demand response, smart grid, distributed generation, and storage. New York currently generates 20 percent of its electricity from renewables, mostly hydropower.

In 2012, Superstorm Sandy inundated New York City, financial capital of the world, with a 13-foot storm surge. Three hundred lives were lost, streets and subways flooded, some were forced to wait months before returning to their homes, and $75 billion lost in damages. Storms are being intensified as climate change heats our seas. The ocean heat intensifies storms.

New Yorkers are resilient. Stronger than ever, they bounce back from blizzards, superstorms, and terrorist attacks. New York will use microgrids with large batteries, solar power, and CHP or fuel cells to keep running. Last year, 83 communities received microgrid research awards so that during future storms apartment buildings will be able to keep pumping water to all floors and have one elevator continue running. Fire departments and police will be able to keep operating.

August 14, 2016, demand for electricity in the city reached a record high thanks to scorching temperatures and extreme humidity. To avoid blackouts, Brooklyn Queens Demand Management (BQDM) will reduce load during future peaks. ConEd held an auction and selected 10 participants that will make about $1,000 per kilowatt per year for load relief. Winners include those installing new LED lighting, efficient HVAC, demand management aggregation, and behind the meter storage aggregation from firms such as Stem, EnerNOC, Innovative Power, Direct Energy, Power Efficiency, Demand Energy Networks, Energy Spectrum and Tarsier.

Winds are most constant offshore. In the New York area, there is enough offshore wind potential to eliminate all of New York’s needs for coal, gas, and nuclear plants. But plans have been delayed for years, as powerful families objected to looking at wind turbines that can be seen from their homes. The Long Island – New York City Offshore Wind Project plans 350 MW of wind power at a barely visible 13 nautical miles offshore. Other potential projects include Cape Wind (420 MW) in Nantucket Sound and Garden State Offshore Energy (345 MW) off the coast of Atlantic City.

California 50 Percent Renewable in 14 years

California is on track to use 50 percent renewables in 14 years. Today, California is coal free and soon nuke free, generating 30 percent of electricity from solar, wind, geothermal, and hydropower.

By law, buildings will use 50 percent less energy by 2030. New building codes for 2020 require new houses to be zero net energy (ZNE), new government buildings ZNE by 2025, and new commercial buildings to be ZNE by 2030.

California’s 10 GW of installed solar is almost half of all solar power in the U.S. Another 32 GW is under development. Solar is running on over 500,000 California homes. Commercial and industrial corporations are also installing solar. Walmart, Walgreens, Kohl’s, Target, and Costco have covered hundreds of their roofs with solar. Technology giants such as Google, Facebook, SAP, Salesforce, Oracle, and Apple power data centers and headquarter campuses with renewables plus storage.

For 377 MW, PG&E uses concentrating solar power (CSP), rather than PV, from Ivanpah, a project developed by Google and Brightsource in the California desert and managed by NRG. Future CSP plants could use molten-salt storage, so that solar generation can be delivered during peak evening hours as predictably as electricity from a large power plant.

Using solar plus storage, Southern California Edison (SCE), serving 14 million people, is meeting a growing demand for electricity even with the shutdown of two large nuclear power plants and elimination of peaker plants.

After the disastrous natural gas (methane) leaks at Aliso Canyon, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) ordered that its storage be reduced from 86 billion cubic feet (Bcf) to 15 Bcf. During my recent visit to Stem’s headquarters, Director Gabe Schwartz confirmed that in the next 3 months, SCE plans to expand its use of storage to replace the use of at least 19 methane peaker plants. Using Stem software plus lithium battery storage, Extendastay, Whole Foods and Safeway will eliminate peakers by reducing demand and by delivering stored energy when needed by SCE. Park Place, apartments near U.C. Irvine, will use a Stem intelligent storage system that includes 1.3MW of Tesla batteries as part of the Edison project. U.C. Irvine is part of the UC Carbon Neutrality Initiative, dedicated to achieving net-zero emissions by 2025 across all 10 UC campuses.

From Hawaii, we see how to succeed with distributed wind and solar generation coupled with storage. From California, we learn how to succeed with energy efficiency, zero net energy buildings, while eliminating coal and nuclear. New York models how to transform energy to a network of resilient microgrids and how to replace fossil fuel plants with offshore wind power.

In Hawaii, New York, and California, wind, solar, efficiency, demand management, software and storage are all driving the states towards 50 percent renewable electricity in 14 years. The air is healthier, the climate future less extreme, and the fuel cost of solar and wind is zero.


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