Clean Energy

Introduction

Since the start of the Industrial Revolution over 200 years ago, the United States and the world have historically relied on the combustion of fossil fuels for almost everything in society: power generation, transportation, manufacturing, heating and cooling, and more. Emissions from burning fossil fuels have particularly skyrocketed over the past 75 years since the end of WWII. During this time, the United States has experienced great economic success while its population has grown and fossil fuel-burning technologies have become ubiquitous. 

For decades, scientists have warned the rest of the world that continued fossil fuel consumption could destabilize the planet's climate, risking unforeseen consequences for all of human society. Researchers and innovators, in response to the warning calls, have pursued developing cleaner technologies to replace those that rely on fossil fuels. In recent decades, we have seen new technologies such as electric vehicles, wind power turbines, solar photovoltaic panels, and other clean energy alternatives.

 

With these technologies, there has been significant progress in lowering the country's emissions, particularly those of the electric power sector. Power producers have greatly reduced their environmental impact by rapidly switching to renewables and cleaner-burning natural gas.

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The natural gas boom has certainly contributed to the decarbonization of the power sector by displacing many coal combustion power plants. Additionally, the expansion of wind and solar power has also greatly impacted the grid. These renewables have become more efficient, productive, and affordable, and developers have taken advantage of the fact that many renewables have lower lifetime costs and can be sited on unproductive land. States and cities across the country are turning to renewables as they pursue their climate plans, so renewable generating capacity will continue to grow.

Despite the ongoing decarbonization of the power sector, the United States still mostly consumes fossil fuels for primary energy consumption. However, the success of renewables and recent technology improvements have made other clean energy technologies more attractive.

Advancements in battery storage technology will allow users to more efficiently utilize renewable energy as well as increase their energy resiliency. Electric vehicles are becoming more affordable and will soon achieve cost parity with ICE vehicles. Other electric technologies such as electric furnaces, stovetops, and heat pumps may now be more efficient and reliable than their fossil fuel alternatives.

While we should be concerned about climate change and what it could mean for our future, we should also be optimistic and

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believe that we have the ability to turn things around. Clean energy promises us a new chapter for our society, one in which we can thrive without risking a global climate calamity. All we need to do is act and go all in. I encourage you to explore the resources below to see how clean energy promises a brighter future for our society and our planet.

General Resources

Below are some general resources on clean energy that you may find useful. These resources will help you understand the different types of clean energy technologies that are out there, and they share other useful information such as cities' clean energy progress. 

Name
Source
Link
Clean Energy
Department of Energy
https://www.energy.gov/science-innovation/clean-energy
Fossil Fuels
Department of Energy
https://www.energy.gov/science-innovation/energy-sources/fossil
Renewable Energy Explained
EIA
https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/renewable-sources/
Annual Technology Baseline (Electricity)
NREL
https://atb.nrel.gov/electricity/2020/about.php
Grid Integration Toolkit
NREL
https://greeningthegrid.org/Grid-Integration-Toolkit
RE-Powering America's Land
EPA
https://www.epa.gov/re-powering
Landfill Methane Outreach Program (LMOP)
EPA
https://www.epa.gov/lmop/lmop-landfill-and-project-database
Regulatory and Permitting Info Desktop Toolkit
OpenEI
https://openei.org/wiki/RAPID
Utility Rates Database
OpenEI
https://openei.org/wiki/Utility_Rate_Database
2020 City Clean Energy Scorecard
ACEEE
https://www.aceee.org/research-report/u2008
Clean Electricity Pricing and Plans
CleanChoice Energy
https://cleanchoiceenergy.com/products/clean-electricity/pricing-plans

Models and Simulators

There are many powerful models and simulators available to design clean energy systems and determine the best strategies to maximize their benefits. Below are some tools that may be useful if you are conducting research or want a better understanding of how these technologies operate. Check out the Databases and Browsers section  or Electricity subpage to pair your tool with the most accurate grid data.

Name
Description
Link
BLAST
Tool to size behind-the-meter energy storage devices used on site by customers
https://www.nrel.gov/transportation/blast-btm-lite.html
SEDS
Long-range model for US energy markets used to explore how the energy economy will respond to the development of new technologies
https://www.nrel.gov/analysis/seds/index.html
LEAD
Tool designed to help states and communities create better energy strategies by improving their understanding of low income housing and energy characteristics
https://www.energy.gov/eere/slsc/maps/lead-tool
JEDI Models
Tools that estimate the economic impacts of constructing and operating power generation and biofuel plants at the local and state levels
https://www.nrel.gov/analysis/jedi/
dGen
Model to analyze the key factors that will affect future market demand for DER technologies in the US
https://www.nrel.gov/analysis/dgen/about-dgen.html
WESyS
Model to simulate the evolution of the US waste-to-energy industry based on industrial, technological, and incentive-related factors
https://www.nrel.gov/analysis/dgen/about-dgen.html
reV
Model to help utility planner, agencies, and researchers assess renewable energy capacity, generation, and costs
https://www.nrel.gov/gis/renewable-energy-potential.html
REopt Lite
Web tool for commercial building managers to evaluate the economic-viability of grid-connected renewable energy systems
https://reopt.nrel.gov/tool/
SolarCityEngine
Web-application to help home and business owners assess whether to install rooftop-mounted solar PV systems
http://solarcityengine.irena.org/#homeview
System Advisor Model
A free techno-economic software that can model many types of renewable energy systems
https://sam.nrel.gov/
PVWatts
Free software that estimates energy production and costs of PV systems for homeowners, small-building owners, installers, and manufacturers
https://pvwatts.nrel.gov/
Project Sunroof
Free tool from Google to assess potential energy savings from installing solar PV on your home or business's roof
https://www.google.com/get/sunroof

Databases and Browsers

The databases and browsers below contain information on resource data for analyzing renewable energy projects, state energy profiles, and different energy policies from around the country. These resources will help you understand how our energy system is evolving.

Name
Description
Link
National Solar Radiation Database
Application used to obtain solar radiation data across the United States and much of the globe
https://nsrdb.nrel.gov/
NREL Geospatial Data Science Data and Tools
Collection of data science tools to apply NREL's GIS expertise to renewable energy projects
https://www.nrel.gov/gis/data-tools.html
Wind Prospector
Application used to obtain wind energy data across the United States
https://maps.nrel.gov/wind-prospector/
RE-Powering Mapper
Web application used to visualize the EPA's information about renewable energy potential on contaminated lands across the United States
https://www.epa.gov/re-powering/re-powering-mapper
US Energy Mapping System
Layered map of the United States with different energy projects across the country
https://www.eia.gov/state/maps.php
State Energy Portal
Map integrating information from the EIA's State Energy Profiles and other sources
https://www.eia.gov/beta/states/overview
State Energy Profiles
Interactive map of United States with information on each state's energy projects and statistics
https://www.eia.gov/state/
State and Local Planning for Energy Platform
Application that delivers jurisdictionally resolved energy data potential, costs, and metrics to inform energy data planning
https://gds.nrel.gov/slope/about
Annual Energy Review
Energy data for the United States with information spanning as far back as 1949
https://www.eia.gov/totalenergy/data/annual/
Energy Data Books
NREL's comprehensive collection of energy-sector data on behalf of the US DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
https://www.nrel.gov/analysis/energy-data-books.html
Open Energy Data Initiative
Repository of high-value energy research datasets aggregated from various government programs, offices, and national labs
https://openei.org/wiki/Open_Energy_Data_Initiative_(OEDI)
Policies Database
Information on past, existing, and planned policies and measures to reduce emissions, improve efficiency, and support clean energy technologies
https://www.iea.org/policies/about
DSIRE
Database on incentives and policies that support renewable energy and energy efficiency in the United States
https://www.dsireusa.org/
International Energy Portal
Energy data for countries across the globe
https://www.eia.gov/international/overview/world
IEA Data and Statistics
International energy data and statistics
https://www.iea.org/data-and-statistics?country=WORLD&fuel=Key%20indicators&indicator=CO2PerCap
Renewables 2020 Data Explorer
International energy data on renewable energy sectors and technologies
https://www.iea.org/articles/renewables-2020-data-explorer?mode=market&region=World&product=Total

Publications

I have collected some recent research papers and reports to help you understand how different clean energy technologies work, how they are being utilized, and how they are being improved. Please let me know of additional resources that I should add!

Wind Turbines

Other Renewables

Image by Kumpan Electric

Battery Storage

Videos

Solar panels are quickly becoming a more affordable energy option for homeowners as prices fall and utilities offer financial incentives. By reducing your reliance on the grid, solar panels can lower your GHG emissions and increase your energy resiliency should there be a grid energy disruption.

 

This comprehensive video provides information on how solar panels work, how they could benefit you, and the different options available for your house. 

If you are considering rooftop solar for your home, make sure you research available federal, state, and local incentives that can reduce your costs and shorten your payback period.

Rooftop solar may not be a real option for many people if they do not own their home or cannot afford the costs of a solar PV system. 

Community solar increases access to the benefits of solar energy for many utility customers. A solar array may be placed offsite, and customers can buy or lease a portion of the array. They would "own" the energy produced by a solar panel(s) and receive a monthly energy bill credit.

While customers may not directly use the energy produced by "their" solar panels, they can take credit for and contribute towards clean energy. Check out this video to learn more.

The United States produces more electricity from wind power than any other renewable energy resource. Wind energy has been very successful in many states including California, Iowa, and Texas, and it continues to grow. 

This video provides a simple explanation of how wind energy works.

 

Although not every state has the wind energy resources of Texas or Iowa, wind energy makes up a very important component of the renewable energy portfolio. By investing in grid transmission and battery storage, electricity from wind power can be used in other states around the country.

While not widely used in the United States, geothermal energy is a major energy resource for Iceland which has taken advantage of its position along active fault lines. 

Geothermal energy is consistent and can help generate base-load electricity. However, it has its own drawbacks that limit it from becoming a major energy resource.

This video provides a quick reference of how geothermal energy works.

Solar PV suffers from an intermittency problem. Peak energy demand occurs in the morning and evening when people get up for the day and when they return home from work. However, solar PV is most productive midday and becomes practically useless in the evening. 

Solar + Storage is a fascinating developing technology that can be provided at the utility or residential scale to provide consistent electricity. Solar panels produce electricity throughout the day, and batteries can store energy for use in the evening when the solar panels are no longer generating. 

Together, they can provide benefits to customers and the grid. Watch this video to learn more.

Hydropower has been used to generate electricity in the United States since the 1880s, making it one of the nation's oldest renewable energy technologies. With hundreds of hydroelectric plants throughout the country, hydropower has historically been the country's largest source of clean electricity. More recently, wind power has surpassed hydropower.

Used to help with baseload and backup power, hydropower has been known as a reliable source of clean energy. However, changing precipitation and melting snowcaps from climate change could threaten the utility of the nation's already constructed hydroelectric plants. 

Born out of the nuclear research and development of World War II, the first nuclear power plants went into operation in the 1950s. Nuclear energy can consistently provide baseload, emission-free power and support a reliable electrical grid.

 

Nuclear energy was quickly engulfed in controversy after several near calamities, including the Three Mile Island accident in 1979 and the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. Additionally, the produced radioactive waste poses a significant threat to humans, wildlife, and the environment, and there is no sustainable storage strategy.

Environmental and safety concerns have resulted in the closure of many plants and halted new construction.