New England must increase renewables deployment almost eightfold to meet 2050 target

Energize Weekly, October 16, 2019

New England will have to increase the pace of renewable energy generation installations by four to eight times to meet 2050 goals to cut carbon emissions, according to a study by the Brattle Group, an economic and regulatory consultant.

The region has a goal, as do several states, of reducing greenhouse gas carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050 relative to a 1990 baseline.

A key element in reaching that goal is shifting as much activity as possible – from transportation to home heating – to ­­carbon-free electricity generation, the study said.

Brattle estimates the U.S. utility sector would have to generate twice as much electricity in 2050 as it produces today.

In the last decade, New England added an average 300 megawatts (MW) of clean generation annually. It is now on pace to deploy 800 MW a year between 2020 and 2030.

The Brattle analysis, done for the Coalition for Community Solar Access, calls that rate “not nearly enough.” The analysis estimates that between 3,500 MW and 6,600 MW of renewable generating capacity will, on average, need to be added each year.

This would include 2,000 to 5,000 MW of solar and 2,000 to 3,000 MW of wind.

“The bottom line is that if New England wants to make good on their greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals, they will need to keep their foot on the clean electricity development accelerator over the next critical decades to 2050,” the report said.

The shift will require replacing 50 percent of the electricity supply now coming from fossil fuel-fired generation and supplying the future increase in demand with 100 percent renewable generation.

There is already 20,573 MW of generating projects underway in the region with wind accounting for 65 percent of the capacity, followed by solar with 16 percent and natural gas with 15 percent, according to the study.

Offshore wind generation offers the greatest potential for the region accounting for more than half the region’s potential clean energy source of 3,054 terawatt-hours, the study estimates.

“Large-scale [offshore] capacity has yet to be built and regulatory hurdles still exist to their development, but New England states procured 1,500 MW by 2025 and are targeting 5,900 MW by 2035,” the report said.

The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management wind energy areas in New England could support about 11,000 MW, and the U.S. Department of Energy s targeting 86,000 MW nationwide by 2050.

New England emits an estimated 175 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent annually. The goal is to reduce that to less than 41 million tons by 2050.

“To achieve the 2050 goals, New England must electrify the largest remaining sources of GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions – transportation, residential heating, and commercial heating – and so a sustained focus on adding clean energy resources and decarbonizing the electric sector is essential to meeting these goals,” the report said.

Among the major carbon sources, transportation accounts for 41 percent of the emissions, followed by residential heating with 18 percent, electric power generation with 15 percent and commercial with 10 percent. Non-energy related emissions contributed 9 percent.

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