The Center for Sustainable Infrastructure Blog

Advancing a new sustainable infrastructure paradigm and practice in the Northwest and beyond

The Center for Sustainable Infrastructure Blog

New Report Identifies a Path to Renewables in the Pacific Northwest by 2040

March 10th, 2016 · No Comments · --Integrated Systems--, Energy, Transportation

By Jack Zeiger –
Energy Solutions Northwest
Energy Engineer with a focus on new and emerging technologies

An exciting new report is out, charting a course for Washington and Oregon to develop a resilient, almost-totally-renewable energy infrastructure by 2040, published by the Center for Sustainable Infrastructure at The Evergreen State College. If you thought it was unaffordable or impractical to make that radical shift in that short of a time, think again. Rhys Roth, the principal author, makes a strong case that it is not only doable, but that it is perhaps the best way to be prepared for the most likely of futures.


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I have been thinking about clean energy and climate change for a long time. I have discussed clean energy with lots of groups. Occasionally I have even met with groups that have not yet accepted the scientifically-accepted truths about climate change. I find that even those groups like the idea of clean energy. They mostly are not aware, like most of us, that 100% renewable energy and deep energy efficiency are really practical and cost-effective now. Most of us are aware of the many advantages of renewable energy: non-polluting, little or no fuel costs, low maintenance, usually local, and its use usually provides more jobs than fossil fuels. But it also has its challenges. Mostly, it is not always available at the time and place where you need to use the energy. Sometimes it costs more than conventional energy.

So is it practical on a wide scale? Several strategies have been put forward to shift national energy use to 100% renewable in various time frames, but all before the end of the century. All agree on certain principles and have much in common, but there are enough differences that it is clear that several different paths can get us there. So it’s not only possible, but we have choices on the details. While none of these are detailed enough to really be called a plan, they can serve as a roadmap. *

So if renewables can be done at the national level, what about here in the Pacific Northwest? As far as I know, until now, no one has put together a credible roadmap to achieve near-zero carbon emissions in the Northwest. In his new report, Rewiring the Northwest’s Energy Infrastructure –  An Integrated Vision and New Investment Strategy Rhys Roth lays out a plan for totally transforming our energy infrastructure in Washington and Oregon by 2040, laying the groundwork for an all-renewable future. He accomplished this by engaging 70 thought leaders in the Northwest who are currently working on making our energy system more sustainable.

For decades the Northwest has been a national leader in energy efficiency. Thanks to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council (the “Power Council”), we already have a fairly detailed Power Plan updated every five years to keep the lights on in a reliable and cost-effective manner. The Power Plans typically achieve needed growth with energy efficiency and renewables, but they don’t get us to full renewables anytime soon, and they only address electricity.  Rhys’ report gets us on the path to almost full renewables within 25 years. He also makes the case that we can do this with very little added cost over business-as-usual. And this is including natural gas and transportation, not included in the purview of the Power Council.

While not quite aiming at 100% renewable, the report states the bold goal that by 2040 “Renewable energy meets 95% of demand for all energy uses, efficiency gains reduce total energy demand by 60%, and sustainable solutions for heavy transportation have been adopted.” He describes rebuilding a solid energy infrastructure in order to sustain these goals. In short, it “paints a picture of how Oregon and Washington can develop an integrated energy system that is among the most sustainable and resilient in the world and, at the same time, beneficial and affordable to the people that will pay for it: rich, middle- class, and lower-income people alike, as well as institutions, communities, and businesses big and small.” The goals he identifies are all achieved with existing technologies. Perhaps we can get there even sooner by incorporating new technologies that are developed in the meantime, such as algae biodiesel, expected to reach cost-parity in the next few years.

Some of the thought leaders that Rhys interviewed may think there’s not much new here. Many of these people are already working diligently to achieve a vision similar to what Rhys describes. What is different is that he is focusing on setting up the infrastructure to attain and sustain this goal. To get there, he identifies much of the policy and regulatory framework that should be addressed to clear the way for this path.

A well-thought-out roadmap, the report is well worth a read.

* Existing national all-renewable roadmaps include: David Freeman’s book, Winning Our Energy Independence, Ajhun Makhijhani’s Carbon Free and Nuclear Free: A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy, and Amory Lovins’ latest plan in his book Reinventing Fire.


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