Can the feds jump start 24/7 carbon-free electricity adoption?

September 14, 2021 – Joe Biden is the President of the United States and spoke during a visit to the Flatirons Campus at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Arvada. The President received insight into NREL’s long-term research mission, vision, and critical objectives which directly align with his decarbonization goals and national energy priorities.(Photo by Werner Slocum/NREL).

One of the hottest trends for corporate clean energy procurement is 24/7 Carbon-Free Electricity: A match hour-by–hour of an entity’s energy consumption throughout the day instead of traditional buying clean energy credits based only on annual consumption.

Google, Microsoft, among others, have pioneered the procurement process. However, it is still relativel.y uncommon. Can the federal government give a boost to 24/7 CFE?

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The Biden administration, through its General Services Administration and Department of Defense–which is the single largest U.S. energy consumer–requested information about 24/7 carbon-free electricity (CFE), procurement in February. This is in line with Biden’s executive orders that direct the federal government to use 100% CFE annually by 2030, and 50% on a 24-hour basis.

This RFI will enable the Biden administration to demonstrate its intent to achieve 100% federal CFE, better understand 24/7 hourly matched and gather information about possible approaches to achieving the goals.

Mark Dyson (senior principal of the Rocky Mountain Institute’s Carbon Free Electricity program) cheered the announcement.

“With this announcement, the federal government joins a growing movement of carbon-free energy buyers interested in more-advanced forms of procurement,” Dyson said. Buyers can “unlock both near-term carbon reductions and long-term innovation in technologies that can accelerate grid decarbonization by adapting their procurement strategies to local grid conditions.”

What is CFE?

RMI defines 24/7CFE as the attempt by a buyer to procure enough carbon free energy to match the facility’s load in each hour.

RMI’s “Clean Power by the Hour”, a study by the RMI, found that hourly load matching costs increased relative to annual procurement costs. Near-term emissions reductions for hourly match depended on the regional grid mix. Hourly procurement strategies can also create new markets for emerging technology.

Procuring hour-by-hour clean energy within an energy buyer’s grid can lead to a greater drop in greenhouse gas emissions than 100% clean energy matching. According to a Princeton University study, it can be used to drive long-duration energy storage and clean firm power generation.

The Princeton lab’s hour-by-hour strategy research:

Reduces carbon dioxide emissions related to electricity consumption

This results in greater system-level emissions cuts than a 100% annual matching

Clean firm generation and long-term energy storage are encouraged by the early deployment

Natural gas power generation is being retired at a higher rate

Matching clean energy procurement is more expensive than 100% annually

CFE in practice

Google has been carbon-neutral since 2007, through carbon offsets. It was also one of the first companies in 2017 to buy renewable energy directly via power purchase agreements. The company now is moving from 100% annual renewable energy matching to 24/7 matching with a goal of achieving that target by 2030.

Its transition focuses on regional grid needs, hourly load matching, and not volume-based annual goals. Google claimed that it will reach 67% carbon-free energy globally by 2020 on an hourly basis.

“The broader goal of our program is to accelerate grid decarbonization,” Devon Swezey, Google’s global energy market development and policy lead said during a recent webinar with the Northeast Clean Energy Council and RMI. “That’s why grid carbon-free energy is included in our methodology. We also tailor our procurement to fill gaps in grid CFE.

Microsoft announced in November that it will provide 24/7 clean energy to its data centers in Virginia through a 15-year partnership with AES Corporation. The deal is intended to support Microsoft’s goal of matching 100% of its electricity consumption with zero-carbon energy purchases by 2030.

AES will source its energy from a portfolio 576 MW in contracted renewable assets, which includes wind and solar, as also from battery energy storage projects located in PJM.

  • John Engel is the Renewable Energy World Content Director. John Engel has been a journalist for over ten years, covering news, sports, and politics across all media — print, digital and radio. He lives in Asheville with his wife Malia.

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