Emerging Technologies Key to Clean Energy Future
The future of clean power in California may involve floating wind turbines in designated ocean areas 20 miles off the California coast, combined with advanced geothermal power or onshore wind imported from across state lines, stored in giant battery facilities in the desert.
Or perhaps natural gas plants outfitted with carbon emission capture and sequestration systems, together with expanded solar farms and small nuclear reactors, transmitted to customers by high-capacity, next-generation power lines and transformers to satisfy residential and business customers who will use 80% more electricity than they do today.
More likely, California’s transition to becoming a net-zero greenhouse gas emitter will involve a combination of some or all of the above and more. As Edison International’s Countdown to 2045 analysis demonstrates, achieving a clean energy future will depend on developing and expanding exciting new technologies.
“Countdown to 2045 makes clear that California cannot afford to delay investment in developing technologies, like offshore wind and next-gen geothermal,” said Pedro Pizarro, Edison International president and CEO. “The paper calls for policy changes and technology developments, and the state must continue to evaluate options, such as greater use of emerging technologies like carbon capture, to find even more feasible and affordable approaches.”
“What we’re planning to achieve here as a company is unprecedented,” said Brenden Russell, Southern California Edison’s principal manager of Technology Strategy. “We must deliver higher levels of capacity and reliability to our customers as cost-effectively as possible. It’s quite a balancing act.”
One of the biggest challenges will be finding the right mix of existing clean power that is intermittent, such as solar and wind, and clean power that’s available around the clock, no matter the weather or time of day.
"The core need we're seeking to be filled is energy. In the current world, we're (generation) capacity limited. There's energy there, but we can’t always get it where we need it during the day,” said Brent Buffington, SCE principal manager of Integrated Resource Planning. “In the future, we think most acute situations will be energy-based, where it could be a multiday event leading to a lack of energy. So, we're looking at technologies that could solve this problem."
One ideal solution is known as “clean, firm generation.”
“Clean, firm generation is clean energy sources that can produce constant energy across all hours of the day, all days of the year. They are generation sources that can be dispatched on and off when needed,” said Rae Brigham, SCE advisor in Modeling and Analysis. “We’ve identified six gigawatts (enough power for about 4.5 million homes) of need for that, and we’re actually quite agnostic on where that will end up coming from.”
Examples include enhanced geothermal, natural gas paired with carbon capture and sequestration, or hydrogen, possibly combined with small, advanced nuclear reactors that are safer and produce less waste.
Wherever the power originates, it will need an expanded grid to reach customers.
“The grid must grow at rates from four to 10 times faster than it has historically,” Pizarro said. “We are planning ahead to make sure the grid is ready, which will involve changing how the grid is designed, built and operated.”
“We are going to have a lot of electrification in highly dense, urban areas, and we’re going to need to get more power into those areas using the existing land and rights of way that we have,” Russell said. “We’re looking at new advanced conductors that can operate at higher temperatures and higher capacities to reduce the number of new circuits we need.”
Solid-state transformers now under development could be half the size of the oil-filled transformers used today, allowing greater levels of power control at the grid’s edge. Next-generation smart meters could provide a new tool to manage customer electricity load on the system better while enhancing the customer experience.
While these technologies’ development timelines and costs remain uncertain, SCE experts working on their implementation expressed unanimous optimism that solutions will be found.
“As an electrical engineer, I can tell you this is a very exciting time for the industry. We have the opportunity to redesign what the future power system looks like,” Russell said. “Our current grid designs resemble many of the same designs and contain technologies developed during the time of Tesla and Edison. As we work toward enabling a highly electrified California, we can reimagine how energy is delivered to our customers.”
For more on Countdown to 2045, visit The Race is On for a Clean Energy Future and The Grid Must Grow Now.