Advanced power-grid model finds low-cost, low-carbon future in West

February 10, 2012 By Robert Sanders, University of California - Berkeley
One possible scenario for the electricity system in the Western U.S. in 2026-29. Pie charts show the proportion of different types of energy sources generating power and flowing between load areas if there were a carbon tax of $70 per ton. According to the SWITCH model, such a tax could allow the West to reach a goal of 54% of 1990 emissions by 2030.

( -- The least expensive way for the Western U.S. to reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to help prevent the worst consequences of global warming is to replace coal with renewable and other sources of energy that may include nuclear power, according to a new study by University of California, Berkeley, researchers.

The experts reached this conclusion using SWITCH, a highly detailed of the for the states west of the Kansas/Colorado border that will be an important tool for utilities and government planners.

“Decarbonization of the electric power sector is critical to achieving greenhouse gas reductions that are needed for a sustainable future,” said Daniel Kammen, Distinguished Professor of Energy in UC Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group. “To meet these goals, coal has to go away from the region.”

To achieve this level of decarbonization, policy changes are needed to cap or tax to provide an incentive to move toward low-carbon electricity sources, Kammen and the other study authors said.

While some previous studies have emphasized the high cost of carbon taxes or caps, the new study shows that replacing coal with more gas generation, as well as renewable sources like wind, solar and geothermal energy, would result in only a moderate increase to consumers in the cost of electric power – at most, 20 percent. They estimate a lower ratepayer cost, Kammen said, because the evolution of the electrical grid over the next 20 years – with coordinated construction of new power plants and transmission lines – would substantially reduce the actual consumer cost of meeting carbon emission targets.

“While the carbon price required to induce these deep carbon emission reductions is high – between $59 and $87 per ton of CO2 emitted – the cost of power is predicted to increase by at most 20 percent, because the electricity system will redesign itself around a price or cap on carbon emissions,” said Kammen. “That is a modest cost considering that the future of the planet is at stake.”

Coal hazards

Burning coal, a non-renewable resource, produces about 20 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases, but also releases harmful chemicals into the environment such as mercury, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and sulfuric acid, responsible in some areas for acid rain and respiratory illness.

California has few coal-fired power plants, but gets about 20 percent of its electricity from coal-burning plants in neighboring states. About 46 percent of the state’s power comes from gas-burning plants, 11 percent from hydroelectric, 14 percent from nuclear and 11 percent from other renewables: geothermal energy, wind and solar.

The study, published online this week and scheduled for publication in an upcoming issue of the journal Energy Policy, highlights an analysis using the SWITCH electricity planning model developed in Kammen’s Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory. SWITCH, which stands for Solar, Wind, Hydro and Conventional generation and Transmission Investment, uses unprecedented detail that includes generation, transmission and storage of electricity.

“We use the SWITCH model to identify low-carbon supply options for the West, and to see how intermittent generation may be deployed in the future,” said first author James Nelson, a UC Berkeley graduate student. “We show that it is possible to reach our goals of reducing carbon emissions using many possible mixes of power, whether natural gas, nuclear, solar, wind, biomass or geothermal.”

“Models like this are eagerly anticipated by many of the agencies involved in planning,” Kammen said, noting that the model is now a prototype that could be fine-tuned for specific users.

Setting targets for 2030 emissions

Mandates called Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) currently dominate carbon reduction policy in the United States.  These standards require that a certain fraction of electricity generation come from renewable sources.  While California has a relatively high RPS target of 33 percent renewable sources by 2020, other Western states have less ambitious targets. Additional policy action throughout Western North America will be required to meet climate targets, Kammen said.

The UC Berkeley study concluded that current RPS targets are not sufficient to put electric power sector emissions on track to limit atmospheric levels of carbon to less than 450 ppm, a climate stabilization target recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. That target requires carbon emissions from electricity production in industrialized countries to drop to no more than 54 percent of 1990 emissions by 2030.

However, the study finds that the right mix of renewable energy sources can meet climate goals given stronger carbon policy.

Of all 50 states, California has been the most aggressive in setting goals for reducing carbon emissions, with a target to return to 1990 levels by 2020. The first step along the path of changing the balance of energy sources is the establishment of a carbon trading market in California, which will be up and running in September 2012, said Kammen.

Explore further: Renewables could bring job boon to Poland: Greenpeace

More information: High-resolution modeling of the western North American power system demonstrates low-cost and low-carbon futures (accepted by Energy Policy)

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1.6 / 5 (16) Feb 10, 2012
If the US spent just 1/10 of the billions that it wastes on this carbon emissions scam on developing safe nuclear power we could make a real difference in hydrocarbon usage. Also, this technology would be saleable to other nations, would create jobs here and help with the balance of payments.
3 / 5 (10) Feb 10, 2012
Advanced power-grid model finds low-cost, low-carbon future in West

Good intentions butter no parsnips.
2.1 / 5 (7) Feb 10, 2012
Just posted today------

Small modular plants are ideal. When massed produced costs should go down and site plans/permits should be a lot less complicated. Distributed generation takes a load off of the grid and makes large scale outages less likely.
1.8 / 5 (21) Feb 10, 2012
My computer model says their model is garbage.

The poor people say they want cheap energy because they would like to be able to eat AND stay warm in the winter.

There should be a tax on all contributions to environmental lobbyists like Tides ... and then that money should be used to subsidize coal and NG electricity generation for poor.

They could call the program Lying Morons Help the Poor Survive In The Winter.
1 / 5 (7) Feb 10, 2012
DJR I agree with all that you say except for the AGW scam. Reducing hydrocarbon use and reducing CO2 emissions are NOT the same thing. As a starter, carbon sequestration will just cause us to use more oil and gas which, as everyone agrees, we have a limited supply of. I will back anything that has a positive EROI that does not destroy the fertility of our farmland or deplete our water resources to an unreasonable extent.
1.9 / 5 (14) Feb 10, 2012
"current tax rebates" = poor people subsidizing you.
1.8 / 5 (5) Feb 11, 2012
"My computer model says their model is garbage." - Parker Tard

As shown in numerous other threads, you don't even have the capacity to calculate a simple average.

Go away Tard.

Have to say even tho inagree that many of his posts on such enviromental topics are lacking, he still should post here as is everyones right.
1 / 5 (10) Feb 11, 2012
I draw the line at deliberate repeated lying, which he is guilty of.

Since I am trained in science, I do not tolerate lying.

VD, you still claim the LIA was only .2C below modern temperatures, yet recent research suggests it cooled so much and so quickly plants flash froze.

Of course only a few days ago you claimed the LIA was not globally synchronous. And then I asked you for 10 regions where it didn't occur.

You ran away.

You are not a scientist. You insult people to try and bully them into accepting your very deranged theories.

LIA = .2c cooling???? Ha ha ha ha. Dumbest statement ever on physorg.
1 / 5 (10) Feb 11, 2012
Most computer models about climate ARE garbage.

"In the ever growing portfolio of studies finding climate model failure, new research determines that actual upper troposphere temperatures are significantly below the predicted temps of the IPCC climate models. This finding represents the complete collapse of climate model validity.

All of the UN-IPCC's catastrophic scenarios depend on there being a high climate sensitivity, which will manifest itself as significant upper atmosphere warming in the tropical latitudes, thus leading to "accelerating" surface temperatures.

Unfortunately for the climate model alarmists, their entire simulated climate world, in actuality, is a climate sensitivity farce. Satellite empirical evidence from Fu et al "show little trend" over the 1979-2010 period. As a result, tropical surface temperatures are robustly below climate model predictions."

1 / 5 (9) Feb 11, 2012
"While the carbon price required to induce these deep carbon emission reductions is high between $59 and $87 per ton of CO2 emitted ... "

Do you know what the carbon tax is in China?

1.55 / ton


Do you know what energy intensive businesses will do?

They will relocate to China.
1 / 5 (7) Feb 12, 2012
"To call climate models garbage is total ignorance...

"The established climate models have failed across the board because they cannot cogently explain the absence of warming."


"Following the 1258 eruption, the climate model simulations predict a drop of 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit, but the tree ring-based reconstruction shows only about a 1 degree Fahrenheit dip and the dip occurs several years too late. The other large eruptions showed the same type of discrepancy."

1 / 5 (6) Feb 13, 2012
"The established climate models have failed across the board because they cannot cogently explain the absence of warming."

Complete nonsense - and you reference a book written by a chemist - and no scientific research......

"NASA satellite data from the years 2000 through 2011 show the Earths atmosphere is allowing far more heat to be released into space than alarmist computer models have predicted, reports a new study in the peer-reviewed science journal Remote Sensing. The study indicates far less future global warming will occur than United Nations computer models have predicted, and supports prior studies indicating increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide trap far less heat than alarmists have claimed."

3.3 / 5 (12) Feb 15, 2012
The only thing that's cooling, NP, is the temperature inside your skull.

You are are either knowingly a liar or dumber than dog dung.
1 / 5 (7) Feb 17, 2012
The only thing that's cooling, NP, is the temperature inside your skull.

You are are either knowingly a liar or dumber than dog dung.

Wow. Thats it? Thats your big counter argument?

Ha ha ha.
3.3 / 5 (12) Feb 17, 2012
It's sufficient for dealing with the intellectually unarmed.
1 / 5 (7) Feb 17, 2012
It's sufficient for dealing with the intellectually unarmed.

Being one, how would you know?
3.5 / 5 (11) Feb 18, 2012
What? You're not clever enough to figure that out on your own?

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