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Only two decades ago, some scientists were skeptical we could integrate more than about 20% renewable energy generation on the U.S. power grid. But we hit that milestone in 2020 — so, these days, experts’ sights are set on finding pathways toward a fully renewable national power system. And according to new research published in Joule, the nation could get a long way toward 100% cost-effectively; it is only the final few percent of renewable generation that cause a nonlinear spike in costs to build and operate the power system.

In “Quantifying the Challenge of Reaching a 100% Renewable Energy Power System for the United States,” analysts from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) evaluate possible pathways and quantify the system costs of transitioning to a 100% renewable power grid for the contiguous United States. The research was funded by EERE’s Strategic Analysis Team.

“Our goal was to robustly quantify the cost of a transition to a high-renewable power system in a way that provides electric-sector decision-makers with the information they need to assess the cost and value of pursuing such systems,” said Wesley Cole, NREL senior energy analyst and lead author of the paper.

Expanding on previous work to simulate the evolution of the U.S. power system at unprecedented scale, the authors quantify how various assumptions about how the power system might evolve can impact future system costs. They show how costs can increase nonlinearly for the last few percent toward 100%, which could drive interest in non-electric-sector investments that accomplish similar decarbonization objectives with a lower total tab.

“Our results highlight that getting all the way to 100% renewables is really challenging in terms of costs, but because the challenge is nonlinear, getting close to 100% is much easier,” Cole said. “We also show how innovations such as lower technology costs, or alternate definitions for 100% clean energy such as including nuclear or carbon capture, can lower the cost of reaching the target.”

Advanced Methods Expand Our Understanding of High-Renewable Grids

This work builds on another Joule article released last month exploring the key unresolved technical and economic challenges in achieving a 100% renewable U.S. electricity system. While some aspects of 100% renewable power grids are well established, there is much we do not know. And because 100% renewable grids do not exist at the scale of the entire United States, we rely on models to evaluate and understand possible future systems.

“With increasing reliance on energy storage technologies and variable wind and solar generation, modeling 100% renewable power systems is incredibly complex,” said Paul Denholm, NREL principal energy analyst and coauthor of the paper. “How storage was used yesterday impacts how it can be used today, and while the resolution of our renewable resource data has improved tremendously in recent years, we can’t precisely predict cloudy weather or calm winds.”

Integrated energy pathways modernizes our grid to support a broad selection of generation types, encourages consumer participation, and expands our options for transportation electrification.

Many prior studies have modeled high-renewable electricity systems for a variety of geographies, but not many examine the entire U.S. grid. And even fewer studies attempt to calculate the cost of transitioning to a 100% renewable U.S. grid — instead, they typically present snapshots of systems in a future year without considering the evolution needed to get there. This work expands on these prior studies with several important advances.

First, the team used detailed production cost modeling with unit commitment and economic dispatch to verify the results of the capacity expansion modeling performed with NREL’s publicly available Regional Energy Deployment System (ReEDS) model. The production cost model is Energy Exemplar’s PLEXOS, a commercial model widely used in the utility industry.

“Over the past couple of years we put a tremendous amount of effort into our modeling tools to give us confidence in their ability to capture the challenges inherent in 100% renewable energy power systems,” Cole said. “In addition, we also tried to consider a broad range of future conditions and definitions of the 100% requirement. The combination of these efforts enables us to quantify the cost of a transition to a 100% clean energy system far better than we could in the past.”

The analysis represents the power system with higher spatial and technology resolution than previous studies in order to better capture differences in technology types, renewable energy resource profiles, siting and land-use constraints, and transmission challenges. The analysis also uniquely captures the ability to retrofit existing fossil plants to serve needs under 100% renewable scenarios and assesses whether inertial response can be maintained in these futures.

What Drives System Costs? Transition Speed, Capital Costs, and How We Define 100%

The team simulated a total of 154 different scenarios for achieving up to 100% renewable electricity to determine how the resulting system cost changes under a wide range of future conditions, timeframes, and definitions for 100% — including with systems that allow nonrenewable low-carbon technologies to participate.

“Here we use total cumulative system cost as the primary metric for assessing the challenge of increased renewable deployment for the contiguous U.S. power system,” said Trieu Mai, NREL senior energy analyst and coauthor of the paper. “This system cost is the sum of the cost of building and operating the bulk power system assets out to the year 2050, after accounting for the time value of money.”

To establish a reference case for comparison, the team modeled the system cost at increasing renewable energy deployment for base conditions, which use midrange projections for factors such as capital costs, fuel prices, and electricity demand growth. Under these conditions, the least-cost buildout grows renewable energy from 20% of generation today to 57% in 2050, with average levelized costs of $30 per megawatt-hour (MWh). Imposing a requirement to achieve 100% renewable generation by 2050 under these same conditions raises these costs by 29%, or less than $10 per MWh. System costs increase nonlinearly for the last few percent approaching 100%

Associated with the high renewable energy targets are substantial reductions in direct carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. From the 57% least-cost scenario, the team translated the changes in system cost and CO2 emissions between scenarios into an average and incremental levelized CO2 abatement cost. The average value is the abatement cost relative to the 57% scenario, while the incremental value is the abatement cost between adjacent scenarios, e.g., between 80% and 90% renewables. In other words, the average value considers all the changes, while the incremental value considers only the change over the most recent increment.

Total bulk power system cost at a 5% discount rate (left) for the seven base scenarios and levelized average and incremental CO2 abatement cost (right) for those scenarios. The 2050 renewable (RE) generation level for each scenario is listed on the x-axis. The system costs in the left figure are subdivided into the four cost categories listed in the figure legend (O&M = operations and maintenance). The purple diamond on the y-axis in the left plot indicates the system cost for maintaining the current generation mix, which can be used to compare costs and indicates a system cost comparable to the 90% case.

Total bulk power system cost at a 5% discount rate (left) for the seven base scenarios and levelized average and incremental CO2 abatement cost (right) for those scenarios. The 2050 renewable (RE) generation level for each scenario is listed on the x-axis. The system costs in the left figure are subdivided into the four cost categories listed in the figure legend (O&M = operations and maintenance). The purple diamond on the y-axis in the left plot indicates the system cost for maintaining the current generation mix, which can be used to compare costs and indicates a system cost comparable to the 90% case. NREL

Notably, incremental abatement costs from 99% to 100% reach $930/ton, driven primarily by the need for firm renewable capacity — resources that can provide energy during periods of lower wind and solar generation, extremely high demand, and unplanned events like transmission line outages. In many scenarios, this firm capacity was supplied by renewable-energy-fueled combustion turbines, which could run on biodiesel, synthetic methane, hydrogen, or some other renewable energy resource to support reliable power system operation. The DOE Energy Earthshots Initiative recently announced by Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm includes the Hydrogen Shot, which seeks to reduce the cost of clean hydrogen by 80% to $1 per kilogram in one decade — an ambitious effort that could help reduce the cost of providing renewable firm capacity.

“When achieving a 100% renewable system, the costs are significantly lower if there is a cost-effective source of firm capacity that can qualify for the 100% definition,” Denholm said. “The last few percent cannot cost-effectively be satisfied using only wind, solar, and diurnal storage or load flexibility — so other resources that can bridge this gap become particularly important.”

Capital costs are the largest contributor to system costs at 100% renewable energy. Future changes in the capital costs of renewable technologies and storage can thus greatly impact the total system cost of 100% renewable grids. The speed of transition is also an important consideration for both cost and emission impacts. The scenarios with more rapid transitions to 100% renewable power were more costly but had greater cumulative emissions reductions.

“Looking at the low incremental system costs in scenarios that increase renewable generation levels somewhat beyond the reference solutions to 80%–90%, we see considerable low-cost abatement opportunities within the power sector,” Mai said. “The trade-off between power-sector emissions reductions and the associated costs of reducing those emissions should be considered in the context of non-power-sector opportunities to reduce emissions, which might have lower abatement costs — especially at the higher renewable generation levels.”

“The way the requirement is defined is an important aspect of understanding the costs of the requirement and associated emissions reduction,” Cole said. “For instance, if the 100% requirement is defined as a fraction of electricity sales, as it is with current state renewable polices, the cost and emissions of meeting that requirement are similar to those of the scenarios that have requirements of less than 100%.”

Additional Research Can Help the Power Sector Understand the Path Forward

While this work relies on state-of-the-art modeling capabilities, additional research is needed to help fill gaps in our understanding of the technical solutions that could be implemented to achieve higher levels of renewable generation, and their impact on system cost. Future work could focus on key considerations such as the scaling up supply chains, social or environmental factors that could impact real-world deployment, the future role of distributed energy resources, or how increased levels of demand flexibility could reduce costs, to name a few.

“While there is much left to explore, given the energy community’s frequent focus on using the electricity sector as the foundation for economy-wide decarbonization, we believe this work extends our collective understanding of what it might take to get to 100%,” Cole said.

Learn more about NREL’s energy analysis and grid modernization research.

Article courtesy of the NREL, the U.S. Department of Energy


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Avis has new T&Cs for renting its EVs, and they’re a little weird

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Avis has new T&Cs for renting its EVs, and they're a little weird

Tesla Model 3 Source: Tesla

Car rental giant Avis just sent an email out today to its customers to let that it has new rental terms and conditions for its fleet EVs. Some of the company’s EV rules are a bit of a head scratcher.

Here’s what the email said:

As we introduce Electric Vehicles to our fleet, our rental terms have been amended. To accommodate our expanding vehicle inventory, this amends the agreement signed by you with respect to the rental of a vehicle powered by an electric motor (an “EV”). Our updated terms can be found here.

Note that these were sent out by Avis Canada, but the rental terms and conditions are for both the United States and Canada.

I’ve pasted the seven-plus points terms included in the EV section below, and my comments are after each point, in bolded italics:

39. ELECTRIC VEHICLE (EV) TERMS. This EV Amendment amends the rental agreement signed by you with respect to the rental of a vehicle powered by an electric motor (an “EV”) from Avis Rent A Car System, LLC, Aviscar, Inc., or any Avis Rent A Car System, LLC, affiliate, or the independent Avis Rent A Car System, LLC, licensee identified on the rental agreement (collectively referred to herein as “Avis”).

Boilerplate text. All good. Next.

1) AMENDMENT TO RENTAL AGREEMENT: This EV Amendment simultaneously amends the terms of your rental from Avis with respect to the terms herein only.  All other terms of your rental remain in full force and effect. In the event of any conflict between the terms of this EV Amendment and your other rental terms, the terms of this EV Amendment shall govern.

More boilerplate. Nothing to see here.

2) ONE WAY RENTALS ARE NOT PERMITTED:  Due to unique infrastructure needs associated with EV’s, your EV must be returned to your rental location on the date/time specified in your rental terms.  If your EV is not returned to the renting location, all costs incurred in transporting your EV back to the renting location will be assessed to you.  In addition, you will be assessed a fee for Avis’ loss of use of the EV between the time that you should have returned the EV to the renting location and the time that it is returned to the renting location up to a maximum of thirty (30) days. The loss of use fee will be your daily rental rate.

“Unique infrastructure needs.” LOL.

At the end of January, a couple of us at Electrek received a PR announcement announcing that Avis was launching a “significant number of EV charging stations at the George Bush International Airport in Houston” with EverCharge. The EV charging stations will “only be used by the Avis and Budget fleets of EVs and PHEVs available for rent” at Houston airport.

I asked, “How many EVs does Avis have for rent across the US, and which makes and models?” And got the reply: “Avis is not commenting on the specifics of its fleet at this time.”

Bummer, because Hertz sure is commenting, and with Tom Brady to boot.

I asked the spokesperson how many EV charging stations Avis is installing at Houston airport, and they wouldn’t tell me – they only said that both DC and Level 2 are being put in.

I asked what the rollout plan is for other North American airports, and got the reply:

Following the launch at the Houston airport, Avis and EverCharge plan to extend the partnership to additional airport locations this year.

So, based on the above information, it would appear that the reason why a car rental customer has to return the EV to the original rental location – in this case, airports – is because Avis doesn’t have enough EV charging infrastructure yet.

I get that this is a growing pains issue, but simply, it isn’t very practical. Not everyone returns to the place where they rented a car.

Maybe Avis should have installed more EV charging infrastructure before it rolled out its unknown quantity of EVs.

One can currently rent a Tesla Model 3 from Avis in seven US states – all in the West. It’s kind of silly that one can’t drive between those locations without having to return to home base.

3) BATTERY CHARGING LEVELS AT VEHICLE CHECK OUT: Avis will rent the EV with at least a 70% charge on the battery.  The range of your EV will vary based on a number of factors including vehicle load, driver’s actions such as speed and acceleration, climate and terrain factors such as inclines.  Avis does not warrant or guarantee the range of an EV.

Why 70%? The ideal topped-up charge level is 80%. If Avis has EV chargers at its rental locations, then it should charge them to 80%.

And Avis ought to print up a helpful document, or give renters a QR code, so they can read about why and how vehicle load, speed, and acceleration affect charge. Let’s not say there are factors without explaining them.

4) BATTERY CHARGING LEVELS AT VEHICLE RETURN:   Your EV must be returned to Avis with a battery charge level of at least 70%.  If returned at less than 70% but more than 10% battery charge level, a charging fee of $35 will be assessed to you.  If returned with less than a 10% battery charge level, you will be assessed an additional low charge fee of $35 (a total of $70 charging fees if returned with a battery charge of less than 10%). The charging fee is based on the kilowatt hours, overhead, loss of use of the EV and administrative costs Avis incurs in charging the vehicle.  Note:  fees assessed in the United States refer to U.S. dollars and fees assessed in Canada refer to Canadian dollars.

A $35 car charging fee is a bit steep. Let’s say a driver returns the car with 50% charge – the amount of money to bring it to 70% would be around US $5 at the most.

An 80kwh Tesla battery x 20c/kwh (high estimate) = $16 assuming 0-100% charge.

But I guess this is like when you bring a gas car back empty without prior arrangements, and car rental companies charge you a really high fill-up fee. And if Avis has DC chargers, then they won’t have to wait long to charge up a car that has a battery charge level of less than 70%.

5) ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE:   Roadside assistance is available for your EV but fuel cannot be delivered to EV’s.   If you require roadside service because you depleted your EV’s batteries, your EV will be towed to your renting location and the towing expense will be assessed to you.   If you require another vehicle due to a breakdown, you may be provided a gasoline powered vehicle in which case, all fuel provisions of your rental terms shall apply with respect to your replacement vehicle.

“Fuel cannot be delivered to EVs” – heehee. Love it. It would be cool if Avis invested in some mobile EV charging trucks to make up for the fact that they don’t actually have enough EV charging infrastructure yet to service their EV fleets.

Why can’t the EV be towed to the nearest Tesla Supercharger or Electrify America or similar? Why does it have to go all the way back to the renting location? What if the driver is on a road trip? This one definitely qualifies as weird. This may scare some people off who wanted to try an EV for the first time.

6) SPECIAL EV EQUIPMENT:  All EV equipment including, but not limited to, charging equipment, keys, key cards, fobs and/or remote (“EV Equipment”) provided with your EV must be returned.  The full replacement cost of any EV Equipment not returned with your EV will be charged to you.  LDW, even if elected, does not cover EV Equipment.

Maybe this is a legal thing, but surely it would be common sense that keys, key cards, and fobs would have to be returned, much like any gas rental car? Perhaps Avis has experienced some customers throwing away key cards because they think they’re like hotel key cards? At any rate, I’d be pretty annoyed if I was an Avis employee and customers kept throwing away the key cards, so fair enough. Fobs is a bit of an overstretch. I guess they just had to mention them to cover backs.

7) UNIQUE TESLA TERMS:  If you rented a Tesla EV, you will be able to access Tesla Superchargers, subject to availability, to recharge Tesla vehicles provided, however: 1) any fees, charges and/or costs to access and utilize the Tesla Superchargers shall be your responsibility; 2) any Tesla “idle fees”, as defined and charged by Tesla, shall be your responsibility (see Tesla’s website for details https://www.tesla.com/support/supercharger-idle-fee); and 3) the provisions of “Battery Charging Levels at Vehicle Return” shall continue to apply to you.

These are fair terms, because they’re essentially Tesla terms 101.

TESLA VEHICLES MAY NOT BE WASHED AT AN AUTOMATIC CAR WASH. ANY DAMAGE CAUSED BY AN AUTOMATIC CAR WASH SHALL BE ASSESSED TO YOU PURSUANT TO THE “DAMAGE/LOSS TO THE CAR” PROVISIONS OF YOUR RENTAL TERMS AND WILL NOT BE COVERED BY LDW.

I love the bold capital letters for the CAR WASH RULES. One can take Teslas through car washes, but only in touchless car washes. Teslas have Car Wash Mode.

Maybe Avis decided that putting its Teslas into Car Wash Mode is too complicated for its customers and too much like hard work for its reps to explain how to use the feature to every EV renter? It’s never occurred to me to take a rental car to a car wash, but I’m not fastidious with my cars. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this car wash thing in the comments below.

Photo: Tesla


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Elon Musk found not guilty in the Tesla 420 take-private case

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Elon Musk found not guilty in the Tesla 420 take-private case

A jury has found Elon Musk not guilty in the case of his tweet about taking Tesla private at $420 a share.

5 years later, this single tweet is still haunting the Tesla CEO.

For those who don’t remember the situation, back in 2018, Musk briefly considered trying to bring Tesla private and disclosed that to investors through a simple tweet.

The Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) ruled that Musk exaggerated and misled shareholders when saying that the funding was “secured” in the tweet:

Musk went on a campaign against the SEC, calling them names and claiming that they were working for people shorting the electric automaker. But ultimately, Tesla and Musk ended up reaching a settlement with the SEC.

As part of the settlement, Musk agreed to step down from the role of chairman of the board, and Tesla and Musk had to each pay $20 million in fines.

The CEO presumably didn’t want Tesla to have to pay for his issue with the SEC. While he couldn’t directly pay for Tesla’s part of the fine, he decided to buy $20 million worth of shares from Tesla. That way, he sort of indirectly ended up paying for Tesla’s fine – though he also ended up with ~71,000 additional Tesla shares in the process.

As we previously reported, Musk ended up actually making money from the settlement due to Tesla’s stock price surging.

Another part of the settlement was that Musk and Tesla had to agree for the former to have his tweets reviewed by the latter’s legal department if they are material to the company.

Musk has consistently denied any wrongdoings and claimed he settled with the SEC under pressure from Tesla investors.

Separately, Tesla investors have sued Musk personally over the tweet – claiming that they were defrauded of millions of dollars as Musk exaggerated the claim that funding was secured.

The case was ongoing for years, but it was finally heard by a jury in Northern California last week.

Today, the jury released its verdict – finding Musk not liable for the investor’s losses.

Musk commented on the verdict:

Thank goodness, the wisdom of the people has prevailed! I am deeply appreciative of the jury’s unanimous finding of innocence in the Tesla 420 take-private case.

That’s probably the end of this saga – though Musk is still fighting some of the aspects of his settlement with the SEC, primarily the need to review his tweets material to Tesla’s stock.

Electrek’s Take

That’s probably the right thing.

As we previously reported, all the evidence pointed to Musk being a bit too excited and jumping the gun with the tweet.

For him to be found liable, they would have to prove that he was intentionally planning to defraud investors and that’s a tall task.

He certainly should be more cautious about tweeting things like that when no deal has been signed, but I don’t think it’s fraud.

However, you’d hope that he would become more cautious about his tweeting after this entire saga, but we haven’t seen much evidence of that either.

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Jury find Musk, Tesla not liable in securities fraud trial following ‘funding secured’ tweets

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Jury finds Musk, Tesla not liable in securities fraud trial following 'funding secured' tweets

Tesla CEO Elon Musk and his security detail depart the company’s local office in Washington, January 27, 2023.

Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

Elon Musk and Tesla were found not liable by a jury in a San Francisco federal court on Friday in a class action securities fraud trial stemming from tweets Musk made in 2018.

The Tesla, SpaceX and Twitter CEO was sued by Tesla shareholders over a series of tweets he wrote in Aug. 2018 saying he had “funding secured” to take the automaker private for $420 per share, and that “investor support” for such a deal was “confirmed.” Trading in Tesla was halted after his tweets, and its share price remained volatile for weeks.

Jurors deliberated for less than two hours before reading their verdict. Plaintiffs’ attorneys told CNBC they were “disappointed with the verdict and considering next steps.”

“I am deeply appreciative of the jury’s unanimous finding,” Musk wrote on Twitter.

“He doesn’t think ahead of time in that rushed moment that this could be interpreted differently and what it means to him,” Musk’s attorney told the jury earlier on Friday. “In that moment he didn’t think, ‘how could my words be interpreted differently by you than it means to me.'”

“You have to assess this in context – he’s considering taking it private and the issue is will it actually take it forward,” Musk’s attorney said. “No fraud has ever been built on the back of a consideration.”

Musk’s lead counsel did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The shareholders in the certified class action lawsuit included a mix of stock and options buyers who allege that Musk’s tweets were reckless and false, and that relying on his statements to make decisions about when to buy or sell cost them significant amounts of money.

Musk later claimed that he had a verbal commitment from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, and thought funding would come through at his proposed price based on a handshake. However, the deal never materialized.

During the course of this trial, Musk also said he would have sold shares of SpaceX to finance a going private deal for Tesla, as well as taking funds from the Saudi Public Investment Fund.

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