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The future of energy in the US could hinge on permitting reform and greater investment in R&D

Written by: Leonard Parker | solar news | March 31, 2021

Energy powerhouses, Ernest Moniz and Lynn Good, talk politics, R&D stakeholder engagement, transmission, EVs and a host of other topics around the future of energy in the US.

On Tuesday, March 30, the Washington Post’s David Ignatius presented the Washington Post Live, sponsored by GE, where he talked with energy leaders in a session called “The Future of Energy.” Former Secretary of Energy, Ernest Moniz, and CEO of Duke Energy, Lynn Good, were two of his guests, bringing with them interesting perspectives on where the energy industry is headed and what challenges still need to be overcome to get there.

Good several times pointed to problems with permitting large projects as an issue that she hopes the Biden administration will address. Often, said Good, it takes longer to permit an energy project than it does to actually build it. 

Take transmission, for example. The Biden administration yesterday announced a goal of installing 30 GW of offshore wind capacity by 2030. 

“In order to get offshore wind [energy] onshore, we are going to need to make transmission investments and that’s very difficult to do,” said Good. 

New transmission lines, like gas pipelines, face obstacles from the public at large related to aesthetics, nimbyism, and other fears surrounding human health. Case in point is Central Maine Power, a subsidiary of Avangrid, which spent $2.3M in television and other public education campaigns in 2019 to rally support for a new $1B transmission line that it wants in order to bring Canadian hydropower downstate. The state of Maine ultimately gave the proposed line a green light, but the project has yet to break ground and still faces ongoing lawsuits today.  

Transmission lines aren’t the only energy infrastructure that face permitting hurdles. Good also explained that in order to support the coming wave of electric vehicles, lots more infrastructure will need to be built. Further, she said, to get to the amount of renewables that Duke has committed to, it will need to build about 1500-1600 MW of renewable energy capacity every year for the next 30 years. 

“We’ll be spending infrastructure money at a pace that is very significant compared to our history,” she said. 

Good said she’d like to see the Biden administration tackle permitting reform with ambitious utility decarbonization goals in mind. 

“I think it’s a matter of bringing people together,” she said. She added that what is needed is a coalition of stakeholders that can talk about the concrete obstacles that exist to take the industry where it wants to go. In this case, that’s decarbonization. 

New Technologies Needed

Ernest Moniz also talked about the importance of building consensus and coalitions. He believes that Biden’s election represents “a major shift” in politics. 

“I don’t think it’s been noted enough that they [Biden’s campaign] made the calculation that for the first time, climate was a political winning issue. The public is ready, and the public wants it,” he said.

But getting to the Biden administration goal of net zero emissions by 2050 will be tough, said Moniz. Carbon negative technologies, such as modifying plants to have deeper roots so they can store more carbon or turning CO2 into a solid or working to make the oceans more alkaline, all need to be developed, he said. 

“For that, we need about $10 billion invested in research and development and deployment so we can start deploying them by 2030 at scale,” he said.

Good echoed that call for investment in new technologies. “In 2030 and 2040, we see the need for more technologies that are baseload and low carbon. Advanced nuclear, carbon capture, longer duration storage, and hydrogen. I think if we invest in these, we can achieve our goals,” she said.

Both Good and Moniz agree that the technologies do not yet exist to fully decarbonize the entire energy system, which includes not just electricity but also transportation, heavy industry, buildings and homes. They also both agree that nuclear energy and some form of carbon capture and storage, particularly for natural gas-fired power plants, will be necessary.

“Politically, it’s about coalition building and recognizing that there’s no one-size-fits-all for all regions of our country let alone all countries of the world,” said Moniz. 

He said that means the energy companies of today need to be part of the solution and “get serious about not leaving behind workers and communities.” 

GE Gas Power CEO, Scott Strazik, and GE’s SVP and CTO, Vic Abate, also spoke during the Washington Post Live event, explaining how they see gas playing into the future of energy. Strazik said he sees a future where the industry grows renewables as much as possible and invests in gas, which is 60% cleaner than coal, to rapidly retire coal. 

Abate pointed out that even though wind and solar energy have been the fastest growing forms of new energy, they still only make up 9% of the energy in use today. 

“We see a renewable-only scenario leaving a gap, that’s why we believe in broader gas, nuclear and offshore wind,” said Abate, adding “We haven’t yet built a roadmap to zero.”

Strazik would like to see the Biden administration focus on outcomes regarding emissions and economics. He’d like to see incentives for innovation around nuclear, carbon capture and hydrogen, he said. GE was the presenting sponsor of the event.

Energy leaders come together to talk about the Future of Energy at POWERGEN and DISTRIBUTECH every year. Next year’s event takes place in Dallas, Texas, January 26-28, 2022.