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Big Customers Demand 100 Percent Renewables—and Utilities Look Set to Deliver

Academics argue about its feasibility, but governments and corporations set their sights on a completely renewable future

4 min read
Photo: Hawaiian Electric
Renewables in Paradise: The electric grid on the Hawaiian island of Molokai is expected to run completely on renewable energy in 2020.
Photo: Hawaiian Electric

In June, energy experts were clashingin both tweets and peer-reviewed journals over the feasibility of the United States achieving a 100-percent-renewable power grid in 2050. Many governments, utilities, and big consumers, however, appear unwilling to wait for the engineers’ all clear: An increasing number of jurisdictions and institutions are setting deadlines for a jump to a 100-percent-renewable electricity grid or even beyond, to fossil-fuel-free heating and roadways as well.

The impetus for this all-renewables movement is the increasingly clear danger posed by climate change. Scientists and policy experts warn that global greenhouse gas emissions—currently plateaued at 41 metric gigatons of carbon dioxide per year—must start dropping within just a few years. If they do not, the global warming limit settled upon in the Paris Agreement in 2015 will “become almost unattainable,” according to recent commentary in the journal Nature.

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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