Podcast Episode 1.57

How to meet electricity demand while greening the grid

with EJ Baik, Stanford University

Lawrence Livermore National Lab, Princeton University, and the IPCC have all published proposed climate mitigation pathways: strategies for economically reaching net-zero emissions by mid-century for California, the U.S., and the world, respectively. And they are not alone (for example: here and here and here). Any given pathway to net-zero emissions offers some combination of efficiency improvements, expansion of renewable energy sources, and some amount of so-called “negative emissions,” using technologies and natural processes that capture and store carbon. But what determines the ratio of these three decarbonization methods? What determines which particular ratio will produce the lowest-cost and most feasible pathway for society?

Climate Now sat down with Dr. EJ Baik, to discuss her research on the least-cost pathway for decarbonizing California’s electrical grid by 2045. EJ explains how major decarbonization pathways are modeled, the assumptions behind those models, and why sometimes the most economical way to reach net-zero is not what you’d expect.


EJ Baik
Recent PhD Graduate, Energy Resources Engineering at Stanford University


EJ Baik

Recent PhD Graduate, Energy Resources Engineering at Stanford University

Dr. EJ Baik is a recent PhD graduate in the department of Energy Resources Engineering at Stanford University. Her research focuses on decarbonization of large-scale energy systems, and most recently she worked to model pathways to achieve a net-zero energy grid in California by 2045. She holds a PhD degree from Stanford University and a Bachelors in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Princeton University.

Hosted By:

James Lawler
Climate Now Host


James Lawler

Climate Now Host
James Lawler is the founder of Climate Now. James started Climate Now as a way to learn about climate change and our energy system. Climate Now’s mission is to distill and communicate the science of our changing climate, the technologies that could help us avoid a climate crisis, and the economic and policy pathways to achieve net zero emissions globally. James is also the founder of Osmosis Films, a creative studio.


[00:00:00] James Lawler: You are listening to Climate Now. I’m James Lawler, and today we’re examining opportunities to decarbonize electricity generation. Over the last 150 years, our electricity has come largely from burning coal, oil, and gas, and to a lesser extent, biomass, like wood. But that’s starting to change as renewables and alternative energy become cheaper, and as the impacts from burning fossil fuels become more clear. Over the last few years, multiple states in the U.S., including California, Oregon, and Washington, have adopted 100 percent clean electricity policies by 2040 or 2045, but how will these and other energy generation goals be achieved when today, more than 80 percent of global energy consumption comes from fossil fuels?

[00:00:47] James Lawler: We sat down with Dr. EJ Baik to better understand opportunities and challenges associated with cleaning up energy generation. We’ve covered the energy transition and electrification of the grid in several conversations thus far on Climate Now, but Dr. Baik’s research on full grid de-carbonization offers new insights into the costs and the benefits of a variety of clean energy pathways.

[00:01:10] James Lawler: Dr. Baik used a detailed electricity system model to create energy generation scenarios that could affordably meet California’s 100% clean grid energy by 2045 goal, depending on different variations to expected grid demand, energy costs, and energy efficiency. Dr. Baik also worked with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to publish the paper, “California needs clean firm power, and so does the rest of the world,” where she and her fellow researchers broke down three detailed models of the future of California’s powered system and concluded that carbon-free electricity sources beyond wind and solar were necessary to meet load demand affordably.

[00:01:50] James Lawler: Now, this seems contradictory to our conversation with Doyne Farmer, see Episode 56, “Will the clean energy transition be cheaper than we thought?,” so we wanted to get Dr Baik’s perspective and hear more about her research. 

[00:02:02] James Lawler: EJ, welcome to Climate Now. 

[00:02:04] EJ Baik: Happy to be here, thanks so much for having me. 

[00:02:06] James Lawler: When you approach the question of decarbonizing California’s electricity system, that just seems like such a massive question and undertaking. Can you frame that for us? 

[00:02:17] EJ Baik: Notably in 2018, California passed Senate Bill 100, which was establishing a 100 percent clean energy grid goal by 2045. There was a need to better understand what it would take for California to actually meet that policy goal because not a lot of research had been done. So, the tool that I’ve used to try to answer this question was a detailed electricity system model, commonly called a capacity expansion and dispatch model. 

[00:02:45] EJ Baik: And what this model does is design a low cost future grid system, and it really is assessing the investment costs of different resources in the grid, including generation, storage, transmission, and sources, and also the cost to operate them. Now, what the model is doing is trying to find the optimal mix of all these resources that meets both policy goals, while reducing the system costs as much as possible, 

[00:03:14] EJ Baik: The uniqueness of these models is that we also simulate the grid for an entire year in hourly time steps, so that’s 8,760 hours of electricity load that’s modeled. What that does is ensure that whatever resources are invested in, that the system is reliable, so we’re able to reliably meet the load for all those hours that are modeled.

[00:03:39] EJ Baik: And so, with this model, what I did was look at a really wide range of different generation technologies, storage technologies, distribution technologies, different scenarios of different technology costs, whether a technology is available or not in different future load growth scenarios, so really trying to map out the space of different hypothetical pathways of reaching decarbonization to try to better understand, “what are low cost and low risk pathways to meet in California Senate Bill 100 policies?”

[00:04:12] James Lawler: Did you code this model, or did it already exist?

[00:04:14] EJ Baik: It’s a commercially available model that I utilize. If anyone is interested, it’s called URBS, the GitHub page actually has all of the model code available. You can download it and run it yourself. That being said, I took that and, you know, built the California version of it, assessing all of the inputs to make sure it really maps California’s current system.

[00:04:40] James Lawler: Just to give folks who may not have worked with these kinds of large scale complex models before, when we say a model, what exactly are we talking about?

[00:04:51] EJ Baik: So, this is an optimization model. It’s written in Python and it runs on the Cloud, it almost takes 12 hours for one scenario to run. The solver is basically trying to find that optimal point based on all the different variables, how much solar are we building, how much wind are you building, how much gas is operated, et cetera, to find that optimal point that meets future policy goals, meets the simulated electricity load at the lowest cost possible.

[00:05:23] James Lawler: How does energy efficiency and our future energy efficiency play into these model projections? 

[00:05:30] EJ Baik: Yeah, that’s a great question. I would say the fundamental inputs that we put into the model are future load growth profiles and expectations for that, as well as future technology costs and their availability.

[00:05:45] EJ Baik: That was one of the variables that I actually varied. You know, what happens if California is very efficient and the load growth is moderate, what happens if California just sees a huge growth in its future electricity grid size or load size due to electrification of vehicles. What does that load shape look like on an hourly basis? That very much is actually also a variable into the model, and there were some insights that we were able to pull based on how the system would look different based on those assumptions as well. 

[00:06:15] James Lawler: Interesting, so what were the takeaways from that research? What were those findings across these different modeled scenarios?

[00:06:24] EJ Baik: One of the key takeaways from my research is that we really need what we call clean firm dispatchable resources. Now, these are resources that are dispatchable, meaning you can dispatch the technology whenever you want, and it’s also not necessarily weather-dependent. Some examples include geothermal energy, bioenergy, nuclear energy, and gas with carpet capture and storage.

[00:06:52] EJ Baik: Now, there’s no doubt that the majority of generation on a decarbonized grid will come from renewable resources, such as solar and wind, and this is because the costs have decreased so much that it is very economic to deploy those as much as possible. Short duration energy storage that’s commercially available today is really effective in storing and shifting that energy, but mostly within a couple of hours in a timeframe, right?

[00:07:17] EJ Baik: So maybe from, you know, the afternoon to the evening, et cetera, but what a lot of people don’t think about is the fact that solar and wind generation is actually highly seasonal as well. In California, for example, both solar and wind generation is incredibly high during the spring and summer months, but gets much lower in the wintertime when there’s still a load that needs to be met. Clean firm resources are basically about available yearlong, and they’re not weather dependent nor seasonal, and so what these resources can do is step in and generate electricity when the system needs it.

[00:07:55] EJ Baik: You know, if we were to imagine a world if we don’t deploy any clean firm resources, meeting these loads with solar and wind generation and storage alone is possible, but what we need to happen is we need to overbuild those resources significantly to ensure that there’s enough electricity generation, even throughout the winter months to ensure reliable generation. 

[00:08:19] EJ Baik: What that means is that during the winter months, we might be meeting the load effectively with solar and wind, but because we built so much of the capacity, a lot of that capacity might not be utilized during the spring and summer. What that means is that we’re also investing so much to build these resources that we don’t effectively utilizing just to really meet those difficult times in the wintertime, and so instead of overbuilding solar and wind generation resources, it’s much more cost-effective to invest in some clean firm resources that’ll hold the level of the load overall throughout the year. The capacity of generation that’s needed is also much lower with clean vermis sources because you don’t have to overbuild that solar and wind capacity. 

[00:09:05] James Lawler: So, if I could just try to recap what you said, EJ, essentially our options for clean electricity generation are really 1) overbuilding renewable resources, renewable energy production like wind and solar, in the sense that we’ll have too much of it in the summer in order to meet demand in the winter, or 2) building perhaps a bit less of that, but then supplementing with these clean ri4m resources which are nuclear or more traditional resources like natural gas plus carbon capture and storage, is that what you’re saying? 

[00:09:37] EJ Baik: Yeah, I think that’s a great summary. 

[00:09:39] James Lawler: I’m curious about the economics of solar versus some of the other power generation technologies. Solar we know is just so much cheaper than nuclear, for example, and the investment dollars are so overwhelmingly flowing towards solar, wind, these cheap, renewable resources today, versus a very, very tiny fraction going toward nuclear power, which has actually gotten more expensive over the decades.

[00:10:04] James Lawler: So, why should we put our money there? What’s the business case for nuclear, for example?

[00:10:10] EJ Baik: Yeah, so that’s actually exactly the type of thinking that my research has tried to address, and the reason why we utilize such a detailed model is to really understand the system as a whole. Pure economics, dollar per megawatt hour-wise, I think solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind are one of the cheapest resources in the market today, no doubt. But their generation profiles are so, so different. 

[00:10:38] EJ Baik: Solar PV and wind don’t have any variable costs and relatively low capital costs. They’re affordable to invest in and it doesn’t cost anything to run them, so they’re very cheap relative to nuclear power plants that are expensive to build and have some variable costs associated with them, but fundamentally, when I was talking about how there’s this overbuild of solar and wind resources that are needed to ensure reliability, points to the fact that the economics look very different from optimizing from a system perspective and what’s good for society, relative to investors trying to invest and make the most of the market.

[00:11:24] EJ Baik: In my research, we definitely acknowledge that plants like nuclear or clean firm dispatchable resources are very much valuable in the system, but we acknowledge that the current system and the market are not optimized to properly capture their value in the value that they provide. Now, in the near-term, we have so much more solar and wind that these systems can absorb, that it makes sense that a lot of the investment dollars are going towards solar and wind resources. Once we get up to very high percentages of solar and wind resources, the sun always shines at a specific time and we need nighttime electricity, and will storage plus solar to convert all of that generation on a daily and a seasonal basis and actually be more cost-effective relative to operating a nuclear power plant? Those are the types of dynamics that we try to capture in the system-wide wall. What we find is that systematically these clean firm resources are expensive to invest in at the moment, but because they are valuable in the system, this market needs to find a way to ensure that there’s enough reliability.

[00:12:42] James Lawler: Thinking about energy efficiency, understanding that we’re going to need a lot more electricity for auto transport, for, industry, for home, you know, heating and cooling, how confident are we that that demand growth is going to be as significant as we think it is? And I’m only saying that because we were so sure in the ’70s and ’80s, right, and even later, that was going to be a totally different picture than it is today. 

[00:13:19] EJ Baik: I totally understand. Yeah, that’s a great point, and that’s why, again, I really did test out a lot of different scenarios and believe me, the system does look much better with lower loads, so any energy efficiency we can get, I think is a great tool in the toolset that we should be striving for. 

[00:13:37] EJ Baik: Now, that being said, one point I’d highlight is that even if we have, let’s say, two systems that have the same electricity load, and one is, let’s say, 20 percent variable resources and the other is 80 percent variable resources, right? The one with the 80 percent variable renewable resources will be bigger in size in terms of pure generating capacity, and the reason for that is because one gigawatt of nuclear energy versus one gigawatt of solar energy provide very different amounts of electricity on an annual basis, right? 

[00:14:21] EJ Baik: A nuclear power plant can generate 8,760 hours the entire time, and so what we’ve called the annual capacity factor, the average time that a power plant is running, for nuclear power plants it’s around 90 percent, or 80 to 90 percent, in the U.S. 

[00:14:39] EJ Baik: Now, solar PV at best is about 30 percent or more, which means that if we are trying to meet the same electricity load, we might need to build like two to three gigawatts of solar PV for every one gigawatt of, for example, a nuclear power plant that might be operating. 

[00:15:02] EJ Baik: And it also is, regardless of the future electricity demand change that we’ll see, the nature of these more variable resources, and their annual capacity factors and generating profiles make it so that pure generating capacity will likely increase in the future. 

[00:15:23] EJ Baik: And what that capacity increase does mean is that more transmission lines are needed, and more distribution systems are needed as well. So, I agree with you that it’s hard to tell what the electricity demand might look like in the future. If we can get enough energy efficiency gains to offset the growth in electric vehicles, by all means, but in terms of even just from the generation side, more generating capacity is needed to produce the same amount of energy, just because of the nature of the variable resources. 

[00:15:58] James Lawler: Really interesting. I’d love to step through with you the profile of each of the electricity generating technologies, so we can build out an apples to apples comparison between them. Let’s start with solar. What is the technology today that’s being used and deployed? What does the scaling profile look like from where we stand today? What does the cost profile look like? And where could the technology be over the next couple of decades?

[00:16:27] EJ Baik: I want to start off with the fact that solar is fundamentally the Earth’s most abundant source of energy, so there’s a ton of potential locally, right? It’s almost endless, and there’s several ways we can harness that energy, most notably solar photovoltaic cells or solar thermal energy. From what I’ve seen, I think solar photovoltaic cells are where the solar industry is headed. It’s a little more efficient. It’s a little more nimble, all in all. So, whether that’s distributed as solar PV panels on someone’s roof or utility skills, solar PV technology is where the future is going.

[00:17:06] EJ Baik: According to EIA, which is the Energy Information Administration in the U.S., solar power will account for nearly half of new U.S. electricity generation capacity in 2022, so it’s the fastest growing resource in the U.S. rIght now, and it’s really exciting to see its growth, and that growth really came from significantly decreasing costs and ample supply.

[00:17:31] EJ Baik: I think it’s safe to say that in the next 10, 20 years, solar PV will really likely be one of the largest generation sources in the U.S., but still, as of today to provide some context, in 2021, PV or solar generation was responsible for about 3 percent of total electricity generation in the U.S., so we’re still small, but it’s growing pretty quickly.

[00:17:54] EJ Baik: I do want to highlight though, scaling has some challenges, which are largely transmission and land use. So, it’s a lot more of a land-intensive resource than what we’re historically used to seeing, and the location of it of course matters a lot because we want to put it in the sunniest areas, right?

[00:18:12] EJ Baik: This location may be far from population centers or load centers, and it also may be cheaper to build in areas that aren’t so populated, and what that means is we need more transmission lines to transport that electricity from those PV power plants to load centers. So, scaling PV might also require scaling transmission lines and having more land use, which I think are definitely challenges that we can conquer, but that we need to be mindful of as we scale the technology. 

[00:18:42] EJ Baik: Solar costs have decreased significantly in the past couple of years. Now, that growth of decline, I think, is slowing down to a degree, but it’s still decreasing and costs more than any other conventional technology that we’ve seen, including gas and coal. Yes, the costs are continuously declining, and I think that’s another one of the reasons why it’ll see feature growth. 

[00:19:10] James Lawler: EJ, I wonder if we could move to wind?

[00:19:13] EJ Baik: Sure. Wind, of course, is a very important renewable resource, incredibly fast growing. It actually accounts for more electricity than PV. Right now, it accounts for 9 percent in the U.S., relative to about 3 percent for solar PV. The growth is a little slower than PV, so it was the third largest capacity addition in 2021 in the U.S., following solar and natural gas capacity additions.

[00:19:42] EJ Baik: Now, most of what’s come online in the U.S. has been onshore wind recently, but the U.S. also has a lot of potential for offshore wind. Like solar PV, onshore wind is a resource that’s a little more land intensive and requires transmission lines, so it faces similar challenges to scaling solar, but for offshore wind, the challenges are slightly different. Offshore wind is much stronger than most places onshore, so it’s really a great resource. There’s a lot of potential. 

[00:20:12] EJ Baik: On the East Coast, there are already projects running. The first offshore wind farm opened in 2016 off the coast of Rhode Island, but the West Coast is a little different. The ocean floor is a lot deeper, meaning that the offshore wind technology will have to be a floating platform instead of one that’s actually anchored on the ocean floor like the East Coast.

[00:20:34] EJ Baik: So, on the West Coast, the floating platform is a little more expensive, it’s a little newer, so more research and development is needed, but overall, I would say there is a lot more potential for expansion for offshore and onshore wind. 

[00:20:48] James Lawler: How about hydropower? Where is that today, and in particular, in California, what are the challenges?

[00:20:55] EJ Baik: Yeah, hydro currently accounts for about 6 percent of total U.S. generation. It’s an interesting resource because it is dispatchable, meaning, you are able to dispatch it throughout most of the year, but it’s also limited seasonally because hydro is a resource that has seasonal fluctuations.

[00:21:15] EJ Baik: In California, there’s a lot more generation from hydropower in the springtime when the snow caps melt, so there’s a lot more water available. And so it is quite a unique resource, but from my understanding, there aren’t too many potentials for hydro in the U.S., and that’s because just a lot of the sites to build these dams and generating power plants are at this point largely occupied, and there’s not too much more capacity for expansion. 

[00:21:43] EJ Baik: There’s also a little concern about it’s future generation from existing power plants because of the drought, at least in the West Coast, in California, there is real concern about decreasing hydro generation as the drought worsens from climate change.

[00:21:59] James Lawler: How about geothermal?

[00:22:03] James Lawler: Geothermal is a resource where you basically dig wells in the ground and harness the natural heat from the earth to produce electricity. There are actually only a few places globally where the heat generated or heat from the Earth is close enough to the surface that you can build geothermal power plants. 

[00:22:20] James Lawler: Most of them are around the tectonic plates, so the Ring of Fire along the Pacific ocean. In the U.S., that’s California, and so geothermal actually only accounts for 0.5 percent of electricity generation in the U.S. That’s really small, but approximately 70 percent of that generation comes from California.

[00:22:40] James Lawler: Did you say 5 percent or 0.5 percent?

[00:22:44] EJ Baik: 0.5 percent. It’s a pretty small share. There’s some additional potential for expanding capacity in California, but there isn’t too much more. There are technologies like enhanced geothermal system, which would increase access to more capacity for a wider geographic region. 

[00:23:03] James Lawler: How about bioenergy? This is one that we’ve had a variety of guests talk about over the last year. To what degree have you looked into the potential for bioenergy? 

[00:23:18] EJ Baik: Biomass by definition is interesting because it can include burning wood, or biomass waste, collecting landfill gas, or using municipal solid waste, right? So, bioenergy currently accounts for over 1 percent of U.S. energy shares in 2021. That being said, it’s a really complicated resource because I feel like there are so many different places that you can use biomass, and there’s a lot of discussion on whether electricity is the right place to dedicate biomass energy, just because it can also be utilized to reduce liquid fuels, and bioenergy, at least in terms of combusting wood or solid waste, it actually produces significant air pollutants.

[00:23:59] EJ Baik: So, there’s a lot of equity concerns of building new biomass power plants, and biomass power plants are also very expensive, you know, wood or any other biomass waste is expensive to collect. It’s a quite heavy resource that has a lot of moisture in it. And so it’s a lot of the power plants in California have actually been struggling to operate cost effectively in the past couple of years because of this.

[00:24:23] EJ Baik: There’s I think the debate really is, you know, where is the best way, or what are the best ways to utilize biomass. Now, that being said, adding onto your previous conversations, James, about its utilization, I think one potential is to use it for negative emissions. 

[00:24:38] EJ Baik: So, if you capture the CO2 coming from biomass, all of that CO2 had originally come from the atmosphere, the plants had sequestered it, and once we captured that CO2 and stored it underground it would actually become a negative emissions source. So, there’s a lot of potential there in the future.

[00:24:57] James Lawler: How about nuclear energy? You know, where is the technology today and what is the cost profile and scaling potential?

[00:25:06] EJ Baik: Yeah, so nuclear is currently the largest source of what I would say, clean generation in the U.S. It accounts for 19 percent, which is a much larger number than we’ve discussed before. Notably, most of the operating plans today were built in the ’70s and ’80s, so these are all pretty old plants that we’re talking about.

[00:25:24] EJ Baik: There haven’t been a lot of new builds since then, largely because of regulatory hurdles or public opinion. Notably after Fukushima, I think globally, there was a lot of debate on nuclear and whether we should keep them open or keep them operating, and Germany was one of the, you know, notable countries that decided to shut down some of its nuclear power plants in 2019 and build out more solar and wind generation to help replace that generation.

[00:25:49] EJ Baik: Now, while it did successfully build out solar and wind and a lot of other renewable resources, several studies have now shown that much of that generation have largely been replaced by coal fire production. A lot of the power plants closed down in the U.S. Have also been supplemented with, or replaced by, natural gas generation.

[00:26:12] EJ Baik: All in all, nuclear gas power plants are just such a big chunk that replacing that amount of generation so quickly with a lot of renewable resources takes a lot more work. It’s been interesting to see shifting public opinion on nuclear energy. I think, since the discussion on climate change has taken center stage, I think there have been shifting opinions on its values as a clean resource. There are studies underway that are trying to better map that out, but there have definitely been from the younger generation, they’re more receptive to nuclear energy.

[00:26:51] EJ Baik: Now, as I mentioned before, these are really big, bulky, old power plants. They’re actually much more expensive to build in the U.S. today. These are actually technologies that have gotten more expensive in the U.S. to build because of different regulatory hurdles and different safety requirements that have to be met, which are all necessary.

[00:27:12] EJ Baik: There are developments in the technology. One example is small modular reactors that are basically smaller nuclear reactors, they’re supposed to be less bulky in both physical size, and by reducing the size, you’re reducing the capital investment of them as well, and so that is, when people think of expanding nuclear energy to the future, a lot of people point to small modular reactors being the new plants that might be built to increase the share from that.

[00:27:40] EJ Baik: I will say, it is really a great source of clean electricity overall. Frankly, my biggest takeaway from research and having worked closely in California, and California is a state that has policy in place to really support the agenda, and it’s also a place that has really ample renewable resources, and a lot of other resources, like geothermal, solar, wind, et cetera.

[00:28:06] EJ Baik: Even in a state like California, as we prepare to meet this goal, there are definitely challenges that we foresee in every direction, right, and that’s normal. And so, in a scenario in which there are so many challenges, and the challenges are just going to be very steep based on the fact that we’re not just decarbonizing our existing system, we also have to think about how the new system will be built cost-effectively and clean as well. We shouldn’t be, you know, taking tools off of the table while we’re doing that, and so each technology I really think has its pros and cons. 

[00:28:47] EJ Baik: Any technology will have a proponent or an opponent, but all in all, it can help reduce emissions while producing electricity. I think it is a valuable resource to consider, and we really need all the tools in the shed, and the reason why we need to at least think about this urgently is because fundamentally what matters is the cumulative emissions from these systems.

[00:29:13] EJ Baik: It’s not just about, oh, we’re emitting the entire time and then we meet this golden 25, what matters is the overall emissions during that time because that’s ultimately the amount of CO2 that’s being emitted. Decarbonizing efficiently and quickly is really a paramount issue here in addition to meeting those goals, and so, in any scenario, a lot of people say you can replace nuclear with clean renewables, but as long as there’s any gas generation on the system, adding on that existing power plant, Diablo Canyon, for example, will reduce emissions, right?

[00:29:51] EJ Baik: Everything can be additive in a scenario, so it just doesn’t make sense to take a tool off the table. At least, that’s my perspective. 

[00:30:02] James Lawler: Let’s look at coal or natural gas with carbon capture and storage. First, can we just get rid of coal altogether? Isn’t it more expensive and more polluting than solar, wind, or natural gas with carbon capture?

[00:30:13] EJ Baik: I think it depends on where you’re talking about. The U.S. is actually a much easier place to decarbonize. It is such a resource-rich nation. We have so much renewables and natural gas that I personally think we can definitely take coal off the table. I think most economy-wide decarbonization studies that I’ve seen have taken coal off the table.

[00:30:39] EJ Baik: That being said, globally, that’s not the same. There are still a lot of developing countries growing at a very fast rate where coal is still the cheapest and most reliable form of electricity, and these are very much power plants that are being built today, so, again, going back to my comment about how urgency is key, trying to replace a single coal power plant by investing in solar power plants is a lot more challenging, just because as I mentioned before, one gigawatt of coal doesn’t equal one gigawatt of solar or wind power. You need to build two to three times that to ensure the same energy output. 

[00:31:19] EJ Baik: One effective way to address those existing coal power plants globally is to try to capture the CO2 coming from that, and that is a really good short-term option, given mining health concerns or the emissions concerns, maybe long-term we can think about phasing them out and replacing them, but in the immediate term, if we’re trying to reduce emissions, carbon capturing storage on coal is an effective way globally.

[00:31:46] EJ Baik: Now, in the U.S., there’s so many other resources where coal doesn’t have to be in the picture. Interestingly though, natural gas turns out to still be a very reliable resource in the U.S., a lot of these studies that look long-term and my research looking at, even in California, through 2045, these natural gas power plants definitely operate less and less frequently.

[00:32:10] EJ Baik: There’s more renewables coming online, you don’t need them as much, but they are still critical in providing that electricity in certain times, and this is why clean firm resources are really important because ultimately those are going to be the ones displacing the need for natural gas sooner.

[00:32:28] EJ Baik: Natural gas with carbon capture and storage is an effective way to reduce the emissions from natural gas in the very near-term, but there are other technologies that can be built to replace natural gas. 

[00:32:41] James Lawler: In our videos on carbon capture and storage at Climate Now, our CCS part one and two, we lay out sources of revenue against the costs for point source CCS from different emissions sources like cement, chemical plants, natural gas, power generation, coal power generation, et cetera, and it seems that most point source CCS just isn’t economical, even with the United States’ 45Q tax credit. 

[00:33:06] James Lawler: It definitely is a challenge that goes back to what we were talking about, like why nuclear power is no longer economic. It’s the same thing, right? It’s just the value of these, dispatchable capacity is just not quite as valued if you’re looking at the current market.

[00:33:24] James Lawler: That was Dr. EJ Baik talking to us about the different electricity generation methods that can put us on a trajectory to net-zero carbon emissions in the electricity sector. 

[00:33:34] James Lawler: Well, that’s it for this episode of the podcast. To listen to other episodes, watch our videos, or read our articles, visit climatenow.com. To get in touch, please email us at contact@climatenow.com, or tweet us @weareclimatenow. 

[00:33:48] James Lawler: That was made possible in part by our science partners like the Livermore Lab Foundation. The Livermore Lab Foundation supports climate research and carbon cleanup initiatives at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab, which is a Department of Energy Applied Science and Research Facility.

[00:34:04] James Lawler: More information on the foundation’s climate work can be found at livermorelabfoundation.org. That’s it for this episode of the podcast. Hope you join us for our next conversation.

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