The Columbia Generating Station nuclear power plant near Richland set generation records five of the last seven years.
Courtesy Energy Northwest
Long viewed as a crisis by the scientific community, accelerated climate change will have impending serious consequences for our society. We can mitigate the most dire impacts if we act now, with a sense of urgency, to achieve meaningful reductions in carbon and greenhouse gas emissions.
The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change gives us the roadmap: Human activity has caused about a 2-degree Fahrenheit increase in global temperatures since the early 1900s. Unchecked, warming will increase another 2½ degrees during the next 10 to 30 years, and about 7 degrees by 2100. The result will be ever-increasing crop failures, wildfires, species extinction and extreme weather events.
Abrupt carbon-emission reduction, clean energy investment and accelerated electrification of transportation can cut that impact in half, stabilizing the end-of-century temperature increase to about 3½ degrees. That’s the best we can do, but only if governments across the globe immediately enact aggressive clean energy policies.
Innovators in the Tri-Cities are doing their part. Scientists at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory are improving battery storage technology, and at Energy Northwest, we’re expanding upon our portfolio of 100 percent clean energy resources.
Energy Northwest is a big believer in the value of clean, renewable energy.
Our agency operates hydroelectric dams on the Bull Run and Tieton rivers, and at Packwood Lake. We operate the large wind project in the hills south of Kennewick, and a solar demonstration project near Richland. Working with local and state partners, this fall we’ll begin placing an energy storage system in Richland; part of a 5-megawatt, combined solar generation and battery storage facility expected to infuse at least $3 million annually into our Tri-Cities economy.
Energy storage, however, is still in its technological infancy (the Richland system will power 150 homes for four hours). Keeping lights on 24/7 requires electric generation when the sun isn’t shining, wind isn’t blowing, and river flows are at seasonal lows.
According to researchers from the Argonne National Laboratory and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the optimal percentage of wind and solar on a deep-decarbonized power grid (CO2 emissions 70 to 90 percent below current levels) will be about 20 percent without energy storage, or up to about 35 percent if significant long-term energy storage is available. After a 20 to 35 percent build-out of wind and solar, cost-effectiveness decreases – and our electric bills increase – as fulltime resources are forced to operate at a fraction of their potential to accommodate an over-build of renewables.
Full-time resource options are carbon-emitting coal and natural gas, or clean, carbon-free nuclear. Of these, only nuclear solves both the environmental and cost dilemma by integrating with wind and solar, and existing hydro, to reliably fill renewable generation gaps with low-cost, clean energy.
Decarbonizing the electric sector is only part of the solution – we must also rapidly electrify the transportation sector, which has become our nation’s largest source of carbon emissions.
This past year EN and our partners installed electric vehicle charging stations near Interstates 90, 82 and 182, and U.S. Route 395, with more likely to come on U.S. Highways 12 and 101. The stations are alleviating electric vehicle range anxiety by connecting Eastern and Western Washington, and will soon open access to the Olympic Peninsula.
Only clean-energy diversity – nuclear, hydro, wind and solar – and additional energy and transportation solutions like those offered by Energy Northwest and our partners will get us to where we need to be as a global community – back on path to a healthy future for our children.