Affordability and Sustainability: Lessons from Around the WorldCalifornia offers a relevant real-world picture of the impacts of significantly expanding reliance on variable renewable energy sources while reducing reliance on nuclear energy. California significantly expanded its use of renewable energy starting in 2011. That year, California generated 13.5 percent of its in-state electricity from all non-hydroelectric renewables. In 2020, California generated 39 percent of its in-state electricity from them. As a consequence of purchasing and integrating variable renewable energy onto its grid, California’s electricity prices rose 39 percent in the decade from 2011 to today, despite persistently-low-priced natural gas, which made doing so easier and more affordable.California retail electricity prices rose eight times faster than the nationwide average between 2011 and 2020. Today, California households pay 55 percent more than the national average per kilowatt-hour of electricity. In 2020, California’s electricity prices rose 7.5 percent, compared to just 0.25 percent in the other 49 states.The impact of variable renewable energy sources on electricity prices can be seen in the more than two-dozen states that have had in place renewable energy mandates. “Cumulatively,” wrote the authors of a University of Chicago report on the impact of variable renewables on electricity prices, “consumers in the twenty-nine states studied paid $125.2 billion more for electricity than they would have in the absence of the policy.” The study authors concluded that higher variability was the main driver of higher costs.With France and Germany, we can compare two major (sixth and fourth largest) economies, which are highly proximate geographically and at similarly high levels of economic development, on a decades-long time scale.France spends just over half as much per kilowatt-hour for electricity that produces one-tenth of the carbon emissions of German electricity. Electricity prices in Germany have risen 50 percent in the 15 years since 2007. In 2019, German electricity prices were 45 percent higher than the European average.A study published in late 2019 found that Germany’s nuclear phase-out is costing its citizens $12 billion per year. In response to Fukushima, the Japanese government shut down its nuclear plants and the cost of electricity went up. As a result, 1,280 people died from cold from unaffordable electrical power, researchers calculate, between 2011 and 2014.Some of the cost of variable renewable energy sources comes in the form of the transmission lines they require. With funding from Bill Gates, the analytical group Breakthrough Energy Sciences last week estimated the U.S. could reduce carbon emissions 42 percent and generate 70 percent of its electricity from carbon-free sources by 2030. But Breakthrough Energy calculated that the cost of new transmission, distribution, and storage would be $1.5 trillion.And that amount does not include the costs associated with local and state political opposition. In their 2021 report, the Academies noted that while variable renewable energy sources like solar and wind appear to be popular in public opinion surveys, “political uncertainties concern the durability of policy support for renewables when deployed at large scales, especially where it is highly visible and potentially conflicts with other land uses.”Local community and environmental opposition to transmission is a national and international phenomenon. A federal judge last year blocked a transmission line proposed to be built straight through whooping crane habitat in Nebraska because transmission lines are the number one cause of mortality among whooping cranes. Of the 7,700 new kilometers of transmission lines Germany needed for the energy transition, only eight percent have been built. Community and conservationist resistance has been a significant factor.The land requirements of industrial renewable energy projects are two orders of magnitude larger than those of nuclear and natural gas plants. Industrial solar and wind projects require between 300 and 400 times more land than nuclear plants. If the United States were to try to generate all of the energy it uses with renewables, 25 percent to 50 percent of its land would be required, according to the best-available study by a leading energy analyst and advisor to Bill Gates. By contrast, today’s energy system requires just 0.5 percent of land in the United States.Many energy experts are enthusiastic about solar panels, but new information has called the social and ethical value of the technology into question. The average annual pay of a power plant operator is $79,400 per year versus $46,900 for a solar installer, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data analyzed by NBC News.  That appears to be in part because so much of the economic value of solar panels is at the place of manufacture, not installation.As troubling is evidence that cost declines of solar panels, most of which are made in China, appear to stem from the involuntary labor of a persecuted Muslim minority, the Uighurs. In January the U.S. State Department deemed China’s treatment of the Uighurs to be genocide.Ninety-five percent of the global solar panel market contains Xinjiang silicon. While there has been talk of bringing solar manufacturing to the U.S. and Europe, doing so would significantly increase prices. There is proposed Senate legislation to ban imports from Xinjiang unless they are certified, and similar legislation in introduced into the House. But given the fungible nature of silicon, some fear the Chinese government could evade such controls.And more decentralized electrical generation makes the grid more vulnerable. “We’re adding a lot of stuff at the grid edge,” said the lead author of the Academies’ 2012, 2017, and 2021 reports, “and if I start building microgrids does that increase my potential vulnerability? The answer is, ‘Yes, of course. The more complicated I make it, the more attack surfaces and, hence, the more possibilities of failure.’”The Costs of Maintaining Reliability With Variable Renewable EnergiesWhile the switch from nickel-cadmium to lithium-ion batteries allowed for the proliferation of cell phones, laptops, and other electric appliances, it has not allowed and will not allow for the cheap storage of the grid’s electricity. One of the largest lithium battery storage centers in the world is in Escondido, California. But it can only store enough power for about twenty-four thousand American homes for four hours.And storage does not easily solve the problem of long-term, seasonal variability. In January and February of this year, Germany’s renewables produced just two-thirds of the electricity they produced in January and February of 2020, despite a four percent increase in solar panel and wind turbine capacity, simply because of annual variability of wind and sun.Germany has only been able to manage the seasonal fluctuations from intermittent renewables by maintaining a large and diverse fleet of coal, natural gas, and nuclear power plants. Germany added 150 percent of its total capacity in coal, natural gas, and nuclear in the form of new wind and solar capacity, which was part of why Germany’s electricity prices have risen to the highest levels in Europe.One study by a group of climate and energy scientists found that when taking into account continent-wide weather and seasonal variation, for the United States to be powered by solar and wind, while using batteries to ensure reliable power, the battery storage required would raise the cost to more than $23 trillion.Most proponents of variable renewable energy thus look elsewhere for storage solutions. The most influential proposal for 100 percent renewable energy in the U.S. was created by a Stanford professor who relied on the conversion of existing hydroelectric dams into giant batteries. But in 2017, scientists writing in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science observed that the 100 percent renewable proposal rested upon the assumption that we can increase the amount of power from U.S. hydroelectric dams ten-fold when, according to the Department of Energy, the real potential is just one percent of that. Without all that additional hydropower, the 100 percent renewables proposal does not work on its own terms.California is a world leader when it comes to renewables and has a major network of dams but hasn’t converted them into batteries because you need the right kind of dams and reservoirs, and even then, it’s an expensive retrofit. In addition, there are many other uses for the water that accumulates behind dams, namely irrigation and water supply for cities. Without large-scale ways to back up solar energy, California has had to block electricity coming from solar farms when it’s extremely sunny, and pay neighboring states to take it, in order to avoid adding much energy on the grid during hours of peak solar production.Germany will have spent $580 billion on renewables and related infrastructure by 2025, according to energy analysts at Bloomberg and Germany generated 37.5 percent of its electricity from wind and solar in 2020, as compared to the 70 percent France generates from nuclear. Had Germany invested the $580 billion it’s spending on renewables and their grid upgrades into new nuclear power plants instead, it could be generating 100 percent of its electricity from zero-emission sources and have sufficient zero-carbon electricity to power all of its cars and light trucks (if electrified) by 2025, as well.From this information we can gain a clearer picture of electric reliability, resiliency, and affordability. What tends to make electric grids more reliable, resilient, and affordable is the generation of electricity by a few large, efficient plants with the minimal amount necessary of wires and storage. What tends to makes grids less reliant, resilient, and affordable is significantly increasing the number of power plants, wires, storage mechanisms, people, and organizations required for operating them.Loss of Nuclear Plants Threatens Reliability, Affordability, and SustainabilityThe U.S. reduced its greenhouse gas emissions between 2000 and 2020 more than any other nation in history in absolute terms, according to preliminary analysis by the Rhodium Energy Group. U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 were 21 percent below 2005 levels, which is nearly a one-quarter larger reduction than that promised by the United States under the Copenhagen Accord target of a 17 percent reduction. Even without the pandemic, emissions would have declined 3 percent in 2021, Rhodium estimates.The premature closure of nuclear plants threatens reliability, resiliency, affordability, as well as America’s reductions in greenhouse gases. Without state or federal action, the US will close twelve nuclear reactors by 2025, which constitute 10.5 gigawatts of highly-reliable, low-cost, and low-carbon power. Despite ratcheting regulations, the cost of operating America’s nuclear plants fell from $44.57 per megawatt-hour on average in 2012 to $30.42 in 2019.But restructured wholesale electricity markets, low-priced natural gas, and subsidized variable renewable energy have undermined the economics of nuclear power plants, including those that prevented wider power outages during the recent cold snap. Those plants are Byron and Dresden in Illinois, Palisades in Michigan, Davis-Besse and Perry in Ohio, and Beaver Valley in Pennsylvania. If those nuclear plants are lost, grids may suffer from energy shortages during future heat waves or cold snaps.The U.S. might achieve higher levels of electricity resiliency, reliability, affordability, and sustainability by reconsidering whether nuclear power plants are really so unattractive, and wholesale markets really so efficient. In restructured markets, as more renewables are integrated into the system, the costs to keep reliable baseload power plants in service keep rising. In Texas, there was no mechanism to ensure that baseload plants were ready for the weather. As a result, many were in seasonal shutdown for repairs, or had not been winterized. In Germany, the government has had to resort to various mechanisms to prevent utilities from going bankrupt.Restructured electricity markets did not result in the oft-promised lower prices in California, Texas, or the U.S. as a whole. And from 2010 to 2019, consumers from across the U.S. who purchased electricity from electricity retailers paid $19.2 billion more than they would have had they purchased power from legacy utilities, according to a recent Wall Street Journal analysis. According to the Academies, the older model of regulated and vertically integrated electric utilities were better at taking a “longer-term perspective” that can take into account “broader societal benefits” than today’s tangle of federal and state agencies, electric utilities, and power companies.While a significant amount of electricity policy is determined by the states, the Senate can play a constructive role in maintaining the reliability, resiliency, affordability, as well as the diversity and sustainability, of our grid by taking policy action now to keep operating the nuclear plants that have been critical to preventing power outages in recent years.Thank you again for the opportunity to testify and I look forward to your questions. Citations National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2012. Terrorism and the Electric Power Delivery System. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Enhancing the Resilience of the Nation’s Electricity System. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/24836National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. The Future of Electric Power in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Enhancing the Resilience of the Nation’s Electricity System. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/24836, p. vi. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. The Future of Electric Power in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, p. 51. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Enhancing the Resilience of the Nation’s Electricity System. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/24836, p. 14. Ran Fu et al., “US Solar Photovoltaic System Cost Benchmark: Q1 2018,” National Renewable Energy Laboratory, September 2018, https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy19osti/72399.pdf; Ryan Wiser and Mark Bollinger, 2018 Wind Technologies Market Report (US Department of Energy, 2018), http://www.osti.gov/scitech. US Energy Information Administration, International Energy Outlook 2019 With Projections to 2050 (Washington, DC: EIA, September 2019), https://www.eia.gov/outlooks/ieo/pdf/ieo2019.pdf; US Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Outlook 2020 (Washington, DC: EIA, January 2020, https://www.eia.gov/outlooks/aeo/. EIA, “Electricity Data Browser: Hourly Electric Grid Monitor,” EIA.gov, accessed March 08, 2021, https://www.eia.gov/beta/electricity/gridmonitor/dashboard/electric_overview/US48/US48. Office of Nuclear Energy, Department of Energy, “Nuclear Power is the Most Reliable Energy Source and It’s Not Even Close,” April 22, 2020. https://www.energy.gov/ne/articles/nuclear-power-most-reliable-energy-source-and-its-not-even-close U.S. N.R.C., “Post-Fukushima Safety Enhancements,” Nuclear Regulatory Commission, accessed March 8, 2021, https://www.nrc.gov/reactors/operating/ops-experience/post-fukushima-safety-enhancements.html EIA, “Electricity Data Browser: Hourly Electric Grid Monitor,” EIA.gov, accessed March 08, 2021, https://www.eia.gov/beta/electricity/gridmonitor/dashboard/electric_overview/US48/US48 Bill Magness, “Review of February 2021 Extreme Cold Weather Event”. Presentation before the Texas House Joint Committee on State Affairs and Energy Resources . ERCOT. February 25, 2021. http://www.ercot.com/content/wcm/lists/226271/Texas_Legislature_Hearings_2-25-2021.pdf CAISO. August 17, 2021. Audio recording of call. http://www.caiso.com. See also, Michael Shellenberger, “Democrats Say California is a Model,” Forbes, August 17, 2020. Lucas Davis et al., “Market impacts of a nuclear power plant closure,” American Economic Journal, Applied Economics, 2016, p. 92-122. CAISO. August 17, 2021. Audio recording of call. http://www.caiso.com. See also, Michael Shellenberger, “Democrats Say California is a Model,” Forbes, August 17, 2020.In their final Root Cause Analysis, CAISO, the California Public Utilities Commission, and California Energy Commission contextualized and softened the remarks of the CEO, who had by then departed the position, but nonetheless concluded that regulators had indeed overestimated what could be expected of solar, wind, and demand response, and that solar was still over-valued by the CPUC. CEC, “Root Cause Analysis: Mid-August 2020 Extreme Heat Wave,” January 13, 2021, p. 6, 49.  “California,” Environmental Progress, accessed March 8, 2021, https://environmentalprogress.org/california. Calculations based on data from “Electricity Data Browser” United States Energy Information Administration, accessed March 8, 2021, https://www.eia.gov/electricity/data/browser. “California,” Environmental Progress, accessed July 25, 2020, https://environmentalprogress.org/california. Calculations based on data from “Electricity Data Browser: Retail Sales of Electricity Annual,” United States Energy Information Administration, accessed January 10, 2020, https://www.eia.gov/electricity/data/browser. “California,” Environmental Progress, accessed March 8, 2021, https://environmentalprogress.org/california. Calculations based on data from “Electricity Data Browser: Retail Sales of Electricity Annual,” United States Energy Information Administration, accessed March 8, 2021, https://www.eia.gov/electricity/data/browser. Michael Greenstone et al., Do Renewable Portfolio Standards Deliver? (Chicago: Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, 2019); “Renewable Portfolio Standards Reduce Carbon Emissions—But, at a High Cost,” Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, April 22, 2019, https://epic.uchicago.edu/insights/renewable-portfolio-standards-reduce-carbon-emissions-but-at-a-high-cost/. “GDP (current US$),” World Bank, accessed October 15, 2019, https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.MKTP.CD. Electricity price data for industrial and residential consumers from Eurostat, 2019. France’s Residential prices for the first half of 2018 were $.1746 per kWh in comparison to Germany’s residential prices of $.2987 per kWh. France’s Industrial prices for the first half of 2018 were $.1174 per kWh, in comparison to Germany’s that were $.1967 per kWh. For a comparison of French and German carbon intensities of electricity, see: Mark Nelson, “German electricity was nearly 10 times dirtier than France’s in 2016,” Environmental Progress, http://environmentalprogress.org/big-news/2017/2/11/german-electricity-was-nearly-10-times-dirtier-than-frances-in-2016. “Electricity prices for household consumers-bi-annual data (from 2007 onwards),” Eurostat, December 1, 2019, https://appsso.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/nui/show.do?dataset=nrg_pc_204&lang=en; Fridolin Pflugmann et al.,”Energy Transition Index,” McKinsey & Company, November 2019, https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/electric-power-and-natural-gas/our-insights/germanys-energy-transition-at-a-crossroads. Stephen Jarvis, Olivier Deschenes, and Akshaya Jha, “The Private and External Costs of Germany’s Nuclear Phase-Out” (Working Paper 26598, National Bureau for Economic Research (NBER), Cambridge, MA, December 2019), https://doi.org/10.3386/w26598. Matthew J. Neidell, Shinsuke Uchida, and Marcella Veronesi, “Be Cautious with the Precautionary Principle: Evidence from Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Accident” (Working Paper 26395, National Bureau for Economic Research (NBER), Cambridge, MA, October 2019), https://doi.org/10.3386/w26395. Breakthrough Energy Sciences, “Modeling Clean Energy for the U.S.,” Accessed March 5, 2020. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. The Future of Electric Power in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, p. 51. Thomas V. Stehn, “Whooping Crane Collisions with Power Lines: an issue paper,” Geography, 2008. Frank Dohmen, “German Failure on the road to a renewable future,” Spiegel, May 13, 2019, https://www.spiegel.de. Environmental Progress. Power Density Slide Deck. Accessed March 7, 2021. https://environmentalprogress.org/power-density-slide-deck Vaclav Smil, Power Density: A Key to Understanding Energy Sources and Uses (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2015), 247. Vaclav Smil, Power Density: A Key to Understanding Energy Sources and Uses (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2015), 247. Josh Lederman, “Green vs. Blue: Biden’s Climate Plan,” NBC News, March 6, 2021. Josh Lederman, “Green vs. Blue: Biden’s Climate Plan,” NBC News, March 6, 2021. Austin Ramzey, “U.S. Declaration of China’s ‘Genocide’ in Xinjiang Explained,” New York Times, January 20, 2021. Ana Swanson and Chris Buckley, “Chinese Solar Companies Tied to Use of Forced Labor,” New York Times, January 8 (Updated January 28), 2021. Aitor Hernzández-Moralies, et al, “Fears over China’s Muslm forced labor loom over Europe’s solar panels,” Politico, February 11, 2021. Reuters, “US House Revives Bill to Ban Goods Made in Xinjiang,” February 18, 2021. Granger Morgan. Telephone Interview with the author. March 7, 2021. Julian Spector, “California’s big battery experiment: a turning point for energy storage?” Guardian, September 15, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com. In 2018, according to the US Energy Information Agency, 134 million residential electricity accounts used about 11,000 kilowatt-hours per year, or 1.25 kilowatts on average throughout the year. Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE, ”Net electricity generation capacity in Germany,” Eurostat, accessed March 7, 2021. Kerstine Appunn, “What’s New in Germany’s Renewable Energy Act 2021,” Clean Energy Wire, last modified January 6, 2021, Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE,”Net installed electricity generation capacity in Germany” and ”Electricity Price Statistics”. Eurostat. Accessed March 7, 2021. Matthew Shaner, “Geophysical constraints on the reliability of solar and wind power in the United States,” Energy and Environmental Science 11, no. 4 (2018): 914–925, https://doi.org/10.1039/c7ee03029k. Mark Z. Jacobson, Mark A. Delucchi, Mary A. Cameron, Bethany A. Frew, “Stabilizing the grid with 100% renewables 2050,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Dec. 2015, 112 (49) 15060-15065; DOI:10.1073/pnas.1510028112. Christopher Clack et al., “Evaluation of a proposal for reliable low-cost grid power with 100 percent wind, water, and solar,”PNAS 114, no. 26 (2017): 6722–6727, https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1610381114; Chris Mooney, “A bitter scientific debate just erupted over the future of America’s power grid,” Washington Post, June 19, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com. Ivan Penn, “California invested heavily in solar power. Now there’s so much that other states are sometimes paid to take it,” Los Angeles Times, June 22, 2017, https://www.latimes.com. William Wilkes et al., “Germany’s failed climate goals a wakeup call for governments everywhere,” Bloomberg, August 15, 2018, https://www.bloomberg.com;Mark Nelson et al.,”With Nuclear Instead of Renewables, California & Germany Would Already Have 100 percent Clean Electricity,” Environmental Progress, September 11, 2018, http://environmentalprogress.org/big-news/2018/9/11/california-and-germany-decarbonization-with-alternative-energy-investments. Fridolin Pflugmann et al., “Energy Transition Index,” McKinsey & Company, November 2019, https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/electric-power-and-natural-gas/our-insights/germanys-energy-transition-at-a-crossroads; BP Energy Economics, “BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2019, 68th Edition,” BP, June 2019, accessed January 16, 2020, https://www.bp.com/content/dam/bp/business-sites/en/global/corporate/pdfs/energy-economics/statistical-review/bp-stats-review-2019-full-report.pdf. Mark Nelson and Madison Czerwinski, “With Nuclear Instead of Renewables, California and Germany Would Already Have 100 percent Clean Electricity,” Environmental Progress, September 11, 2018, http://environmentalprogress.org. Kate Larsen, et. al, “Preliminary Greenhouse Gas Emissions Estimates for 2020, Rhodium Group, January 12, 2021. U.S. Energy Information Administration, “Despite closures, U.S. nuclear electricity generation in 2018 surpassed its previous peak,” March 21, 2019. Patel, S. (2020, April 16). U.S. Nuclear Industry Shaved Generating Costs by 7.6 percent Compared to 2018. Retrieved March 07, 2021, from https://www.powermag.com/u-s-nuclear-industry-shaved-generating-costs-by-7-6-compared-to-2018 Freja Eriksen, “German Electricity Supply Security to Stay Very High Even with Coal Exit – Economy Ministry,” Clean Energy Wire, last modified July 4, 2019 Chi-Keung Woo, “Electricity market reform failures: UK, Norway, Alberta, and California,” Energy Policy, September 2003 ,pp. 1103-115. Tom McGinty and Scott Patterson, “Texas Electric Bills Were $28 Billion Higher Under Deregulation,” Wall Street Journal, February 24, 2021. Scott Patterson and Tom McGinty, “Deregulation Aimed to Lower Home Power Bills. For Many, It Didn’t,” Wall Street Journal, March 9, 2021. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Enhancing the Resilience of the Nation’s Electricity System. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/24836, p. 14.