GRA
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Utilities have a problem: the public wants 100% renewable energy, and quick

Mon Oct 01, 2018 6:12 pm

https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2018/9/14/17853884/utilities-renewable-energy-100-percent-public-opinion

. . . The rapid spread and evident popularity of the 100 percent target has created an alarming situation for power utilities. Suffice to say, while there are some visionary utilities in the country, as an industry, they tend to be extremely small-c conservative.

They do not like the idea of being forced to transition entirely to renewable energy, certainly not in the next 10 to 15 years. For one thing, most of them don’t believe the technology exists to make 100 percent work reliably; they believe that even with lots of storage, variable renewables will need to be balanced out by “dispatchable” power plants like natural gas. For another thing, getting to 100 percent quickly would mean lots of “stranded assets,” i.e., shutting down profitable fossil fuel power plants.

In short, their customers are stampeding in a direction that terrifies them.

The industry’s dilemma is brought home by a recent bit of market research and polling done on behalf of the Edison Electric Institute, a trade group for utilities. It was distributed at a recent meeting of EEI board members and executives and shared with me.

The work was done by the market research firm Maslansky & Partners, which analyzed existing utility messaging, interviewed utility execs and environmentalists, ran a national opinion survey, and did a couple of three-hour sit-downs with “media informed customers” in Minneapolis and Phoenix.

The results are striking. They do a great job of laying out the public opinion landscape on renewables, showing where different groups have advantages and disadvantages.

The takeaway: Renewables are a public opinion juggernaut. Being against them is no longer an option. The industry’s best and only hope is to slow down the stampede a bit (and that’s what they plan to try).

Utilities don’t think it is wise or feasible to go 100 percent renewables. But the public loves it.

And I mean loves it. Check out these numbers from the opinion survey: [bar graphs]

In case you don’t feel like squinting, let me draw your attention to the fact that a majority of those surveyed (51 percent) believe that 100 percent renewables is a good idea even if it raises their energy bills by 30 percent.

That is wild. As anyone who’s been in politics a while knows, Americans don’t generally like people raising their bills, much less by a third. A majority that still favors it? That is political dynamite.

Insofar as utilities were in a public relations war over renewables, they’ve lost. They face a tidal wave. So what can they do?

    Explaining why 100% renewables is impossible backfires

What they can’t do is tell customers why they can’t do it. Customers do not want to hear excuses.

They tested the following message (this is an excerpt, with emphasis added): “Today, we can choose between a balanced energy mix, which provides reliable energy whenever we need it, and 100% renewable energy. But we cannot have both. We also need to consider the costs. ... The logistics, resources, and costs would be immense.”

Nope. Customers didn’t want to hear it. . . .

Can’t-do arguments get a company branded as anti-renewables, and that means Bad Guy. After that, customers aren’t listening. . . .

An anti-renewables message, even a message that implies anti-renewables, is simply untenable.

That is worth noting. It’s something I’m not sure US climate hawks or political types have entirely internalized. There aren’t many contested political issues on which public opinion is so unequivocally on one side.

So utilities must convince customers that they support renewable energy, first thing, off the bat. (The best way to do that, of the options tested, was telling customers about investments — highlighting the rising level of investment in renewables. Money talks.)

If they can make that key connection, then they can swing the conversation around. Once customers are convinced that utilities are sincere about supporting renewables, they become more open to the message that getting to 100 percent will take some time, that it needs to be done deliberately, and that costs need to be taken into account. . . .

    On renewables, “yes, but” is the only countermessage left

So where does this leave us in terms of the messaging landscape?

In the 100 percent renewables debate, there are roughly three camps, at least among the researchers, energy executives, climate advocates, and journalists who pay attention to these sorts of things.

The first, with most activists and advocates, supports 100 percent renewables as a clear, intuitive, and inspiring target, an effective way to rally public support and speed the transition.

The second camp believes that the cheaper, safer way to get to carbon-free electricity is not to rely entirely on renewables but to supplement them with “firm” zero-carbon alternatives like hydro, nuclear, geothermal, biomass, or fossil fuels with carbon capture and sequestration. (See this paper, from a group of MIT researchers, for the best articulation of that argument.) This camp supports the strategy California has taken, which is to mandate 100 percent “zero carbon” rather than “renewable” resources, to leave flexibility.

The third camp, containing many utilities and conservatives, flatly doesn’t believe 100 percent carbon-free electricity is possible anytime soon, and would just as soon not close working fossil fuel power plants before the end of their profitable lives. They would like to continue balancing the rising share of renewables with natural gas.

The first camp has won the public’s heart. Big time. Everyone, even those gritting their teeth, has to signal support for renewables if they want to be taken seriously.

There is some room for the third camp to convince the public that the transition to renewables needs to proceed carefully and “gradually.” That’s the ground advocates and utilities will be fighting on in coming years: not whether to go, but how fast. (There’s a lot of room within “not the next five years, but maybe by the end of our lifetimes.”).

And there is some room for the second camp to convince the public that the transition to clean energy is best achieved by relying on sources beyond renewable energy, or at least by not locking ourselves into renewables prematurely. One of the survey’s findings is that under a range of questions, the public does not have a strong preference between increasing renewables and reducing carbon emissions. I doubt most people differentiate the two at all — they are vaguely good, environmental-ish things.

Similarly, I doubt the public at large will care much about the distinction between “renewable” and “clean,” which serves as a pretty good argument for the California approach. (The California approach, or at least earlier variants of it, has helped keep existing nuclear plants running in Illinois and New York.)

But these are implementation details. The decarbonization ship has sailed. Renewable energy is in the vanguard and, at least for now, it appears unstoppable. At this point, it is difficult to imagine what could turn the public against it.

The basic message from the public, if I could pull together all the strands of the research, is this: We want clean, modern energy, and we’ll pay for it. We’re willing to let experts work out the details, but we don’t want to hear that it can’t be done. Just do it. . . .
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Randy
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Re: Utilities have a problem: the public wants 100% renewable energy, and quick

Mon Oct 01, 2018 7:10 pm

I've worked in our local grid control center for over a decade, and the only feasible way I see us getting to those high % of renewable goals is with a lot of expensive storage batteries.

And the one thing that I hear virtually no one talk about is the fact that the batteries have a finite life span. So spending a bunch of money on the batteries in the beginning is not the total cost of operation...

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Re: Utilities have a problem: the public wants 100% renewable energy, and quick

Tue Oct 02, 2018 9:25 am

Randy wrote:I've worked in our local grid control center for over a decade, and the only feasible way I see us getting to those high % of renewable goals is with a lot of expensive storage batteries.

And the one thing that I hear virtually no one talk about is the fact that the batteries have a finite life span. So spending a bunch of money on the batteries in the beginning is not the total cost of operation...


Battery power has a cost. Do the math. Utility installs are likely to be $100 per kWh by the time they become common. If they have a 10 year life, and are cycled 300 days a year, the cost is about $0.03 per cycle.

If your solar is $0.03 cheaper than your coal power, coal loses. Even before the public willing to pay more to not have a mercury spewing monster next door.
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Re: Utilities have a problem: the public wants 100% renewable energy, and quick

Tue Oct 02, 2018 11:31 am

GRA wrote:https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2018/9/14/17853884/utilities-renewable-energy-100-percent-public-opinion

. . . a majority of those surveyed (51 percent) believe that 100 percent renewables is a good idea even if it raises their energy bills by 30 percent.

...

There aren’t many contested political issues on which public opinion is so unequivocally on one side.


Hmmm... Survey says a majority (51 percent) favor it. This is then pitched as the public being so unequivocally on one side? Really? :lol:

And this logic is the core basis for this article's stance? :o

Don't get me wrong - I support zero carbon and renewables. But the original author is clearly spinning the study results to push a desired conclusion. Why do people have so much disregard for the data and cherry pick bits and pieces that support some stance? Why do so few get called out on it? What about the 49% who don't want to pay 30% higher utility bills so the 51% can have their conscience eased?

Yes, we need to move to renewables and zero carbon. But let's do it honestly. If we can't put forward valid science to support the concept, we are going to look real bad when we get caught playing these types of games to dupe people into supporting our cause.

GRA - my comments aren't directed at you - I appreciate your bringing enlightening material forward from other forums. My objection is to the original author's clear spin of the news in their reporting.

Aside from this rather silly spin, the article does successfully point that public opinion has created a problem for utilities and politicians and that there are several responses which have different merits, none of which bode well in terms of public perception. IIRC, in most jurisdictions, utilities are guaranteed a return on investment. So those early plant retirements will be paid for by the ratepayers. And those new investments in zero carbon or renewables will also be paid for by the ratepayers. This will be a huge revenue boom for the utilities which will mean huge bonuses for the execs. The ratepayers are the ones who will get stuck with the high bills for the next 30 plus years. And the politicians might learn that a survey response is one thing, but paying those bills is another and a lot of that 51% will join the 49% once they realize they were duped and can't afford those bills.
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Re: Utilities have a problem: the public wants 100% renewable energy, and quick

Tue Oct 02, 2018 1:11 pm

It should also be noted that 51%/49% is well within the margin for error of any survey, and should be considered a statistical tie.
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Re: Utilities have a problem: the public wants 100% renewable energy, and quick

Tue Oct 02, 2018 4:54 pm

DarthPuppy wrote:
GRA wrote:https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2018/9/14/17853884/utilities-renewable-energy-100-percent-public-opinion

. . . a majority of those surveyed (51 percent) believe that 100 percent renewables is a good idea even if it raises their energy bills by 30 percent.

...

There aren’t many contested political issues on which public opinion is so unequivocally on one side.


Hmmm... Survey says a majority (51 percent) favor it. This is then pitched as the public being so unequivocally on one side? Really? :lol:

And this logic is the core basis for this article's stance? :o

The survey also said that 56% thought a commitment to 100% renewables if they cost 10% more was either a pretty good or very good idea (combining pretty/very good is where the 51% figure @ +30% comes from), and pointed out that 87% were in favor (pretty/very good idea) of commitments to 100% renewables pre-test, and still 82% post-test after they were made aware of the likely costs. Like the author, I do consider the fact that a (slight) majority of people (although I agree that's well within the margin of error) said they were willing to do this even though it was going to cost them 30% more personally to be an amazing figure, as I can't think of any other issues barring national defense in a time of major threats that would see that much support for paying that much more.

That being said, it's a lot easier to say you're willing to pay 30% more when you're not actually doing it. ;) Still, some European democracies have been doing this for some time, have the higher electrical rates to prove it, and still have majority public support. Granted, unlike the U.S. they tend to be cradle-to-grave social welfare states with generally higher taxes and costs, so the basic attitude is likely to be less individualistic and more communal than here. It still shows that it is possible in a democracy.
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Re: Utilities have a problem: the public wants 100% renewable energy, and quick

Tue Oct 02, 2018 9:06 pm

Yeah my main point I guess is that it is easier to say on a survey you are okay with paying more for clean energy. It is quite different to actually do it. Way too many people in the country are living paycheck to paycheck.

If those views were as widely held as the survey suggests, I would expect to see a lot more homes in So. Cal. with solar panels. Here in California, we are supposedly more green oriented than the rest of the country except possibly OR and WA. And we are well positioned for solar productivity.

I also don't see it in the other consumer behaviors like car buying. If people are truly willing to pay 30% more for green, I think I'd see a lot more EVs, PHEVs, and even regular hybrids running around. I do see that in the wealthier communities. But that isn't what makes up the population base.

Now I acknowledge the above two observations are anecdotal and not statistically collected. But data that drives Ford to abandon cars because the US consumer wants big, inefficient trucks, doesn't really support that public opinion is anywhere near as strong as what the article asserts.
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Re: Utilities have a problem: the public wants 100% renewable energy, and quick

Wed Oct 03, 2018 5:15 am

WetEV wrote:
Randy wrote:I've worked in our local grid control center for over a decade, and the only feasible way I see us getting to those high % of renewable goals is with a lot of expensive storage batteries.

And the one thing that I hear virtually no one talk about is the fact that the batteries have a finite life span. So spending a bunch of money on the batteries in the beginning is not the total cost of operation...
Battery power has a cost. Do the math. Utility installs are likely to be $100 per kWh by the time they become common. If they have a 10 year life, and are cycled 300 days a year, the cost is about $0.03 per cycle.

If your solar is $0.03 cheaper than your coal power, coal loses. Even before the public willing to pay more to not have a mercury spewing monster next door.
It is truly sad that anyone believes that this crude, back-of-the-envelope calculation constitutes "doing the math". I'm here to tell you that it does not. When you actually do the math, you find that reality is nothing like the calculation that WetEV puts forth.

There are important factors that crop up, such as the fact that where WetEV lives or in places like Germany, the production of PV panels in wintertime is 1/6 what it is in summertime. The result of that little fact is that without some form of seasonal storage, PV costs about 6X what it might cost at places close to the equator. Now if you multiply that effect by the fact that farther from the equator where that effect is significant, it gets significantly colder in the wintertime and you find that the cost of PV is perhaps 10X to 20X what might be needed at the equator. And all of that ignores the storage needs that are caused by nighttime and cloudy weather.

The simple bottom line is that for an actual system, you need much more photovoltaics and much more energy storage than WetEV's numbers portray. How much more? We can simply look at the costs born by the citizens of the states which have mandated renewable energy in places where significant hydroelectric generation is not available. In places like Germany, Denmark, and Southern Australia the per-kWh electricity rates are double or triple what they are in similar places which are using dispatchable sources such as nuclear or fossil fuels to generate their electricity. And that is on top of the massive amounts of taxpayer money which was spent to build the renewable generators (and throw away the existing ones). Does those places produced 100% of their electricity with renewable sources? No. Not even close. And the last few tens of percent of generation are the hardest.

And even this understates the problem somewhat. Consider that most water, space, and industrial heating and most transportation are currently done using fossil fuels. For instance, many Californians heat their homes and water using natural gas and they drive gasoline-powered vehicles. In order to convert all of these other, larger, consumers of fossil fuels over to electricity will make the transition much more challenging.

It is incredibly naive to imagine this to be a simple, low-cost transition. And it is reprehensible to tell others that it will only increase the cost of electricity by 30%, or 50% or even 100% over using existing technology. Sometime in the future renewables will likely cost less than the current electricity grid. But California is the poster child for driving up the price of everything through governmental mandates for technologies whose time has not yet come.
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Re: Utilities have a problem: the public wants 100% renewable energy, and quick

Wed Oct 03, 2018 5:38 am

RegGuheert wrote: But California is the poster child for driving up the price of everything through governmental mandates for technologies whose time has not yet come.

So you wait ... for someone else to do the heavy lifting. That would be California
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Re: Utilities have a problem: the public wants 100% renewable energy, and quick

Wed Oct 03, 2018 5:41 am

SageBrush wrote:So you wait ... for someone else to do the heavy lifting. That would be California
No I don't.

What you repeatedly call "heavy lifting" is rightfully called "foolishly wasting resources and doing excessive damage to the environment". That is the direct outcome of deploying energy technologies before they are ready for widespread adoption.
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