NREL study outlines how Los Angeles can meet goal of reliable, 100% renewable electricity

March 24, 2021

by Paul Ciampoli
APPA News Director
March 24, 2021

Meeting Los Angeles’ goal of reliable, 100% renewable electricity by 2045, or even 2035, is achievable with rapid deployment of wind, solar, storage, and other renewable energy technologies this decade, according to a years-long analysis by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

The results of the study were released by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Cynthia McClain-Hill, President, Board of Water and Power Commissioners, Marty Adams, General Manager and Chief Engineer, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, a number of Los Angeles City Council members and Dr. Martin Keller, Executive Director, NREL, on March 24.

They participated in a virtual press event to release the Los Angeles 100% Renewable Energy Study, known as LA100. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm also made remarks during the event.

Three years ago, “we teamed up with NREL to figure out exactly what it would take” to move even faster towards the city’s 100 percent renewable energy goal, Garcetti said. “Together we’ve run over one hundred million simulations to answer that question,” he said.

“We worked with representatives of local communities, listened to our constituents to prioritize environmental justice and how we do this and to identify multiple pathways to get to one hundred percent and here’s what we found,” Garcetti said.

“First, one hundred percent renewable energy is absolutely achievable,” he said. “In fact, it’s within our reach. It can actually make our system more reliable than it is today and more affordable than it is today for Angelenos of all backgrounds.”

Second, “the more that we electrify other sectors, the more our capital investments will reduce costs and increase our health benefits, lifting a burden that too often falls on low income communities of color.”

And third, “We need to get moving on these investments right now. This study isn’t something in the shelf. It is a greenprint for us to jump into action.”

McClain-Hill said, “that we now have several viable paths to achieve 100 percent renewable energy for Los Angeles and maintain a reliable power grid, even in the most extreme conditions, has clear national implications.”

She added, “it is also a testament to the important role that our storied Department of Water and Power continues to play in manifesting the future of Los Angeles.”

The study “makes it clear that it’s possible to achieve our goal while remaining true to the core principles of reliability, environmental stewardship, environmental justice, resiliency and affordability. That’s critical because our challenge and our charge goes far beyond achieving 100 percent renewable energy,” said McClain-Hill.

“Our charge is to support our community by reducing carbon emissions in ways that build and uplift the quality of life for everyone,” she said. “LA100 shows we can do that by creating jobs and opportunities and engaging our customers in being part of the solution. For the Department of Water and Power, this is our roadmap for building a stronger and more vibrant Los Angeles.”

For his part, Adams said that with the completion of the LA100 study, LADWP “now has the tools and the roadmap to continue on the path to one hundred percent renewables and we plan to start right away by developing a set of next steps and the actions that are called for are actions that were in all the scenarios of the study.”

Details on study

“The combined effects of energy efficiency, electrification, and demand response yield large benefits to greenhouse gas reductions and public health and help cost-effectively manage the clean energy transition,” NREL noted in a news release related to the study.

NREL is the U.S. Department of Energy’s primary national laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development.

In addition to identifying pathways for Los Angeles, the study illuminates the potential for other municipalities, large and small, to embark on similar analysis and contribute toward national efforts to decarbonize the U.S. power sector by 2035.

NREL said that the study provides insights into how LADWP can meet clean energy targets established by Garcetti and the Los Angeles City Council in 2016 and 2017. LADWP currently generates more than half of its electricity from renewable and zero carbon resources.

The  analysis stops short of making specific policy or project recommendations but identifies “no-regrets” investments the city can consider now to reap potential benefits to reliability and greenhouse gas reductions in the coming decade: namely, deployment of new solar, wind, batteries, and transmission within and outside of the city, paired with upgrades to the local distribution system and smart-grid operational practices that make more efficient use of these investments, NREL noted.

“Unlike other forward-looking studies of high-renewable power systems, LA100 uniquely considered reliability as a fundamental requirement for the future grid,” NREL said.

“Reliability of the grid is paramount — especially in a future when more consumer products like cars are electrified. Our models subjected the grid to multiple stresses — from higher temperatures due to climate change, to wildfire risks that could take out transmission lines for weeks or even months at time,” said Jaquelin Cochran, manager of NREL’s grid systems analysis group and principal investigator of the LA100 study.

Quarterly meetings over three years with the study’s Los Angeles-based Advisory Group, comprising members representing neighborhoods, customers, labor, business, environmental, academic organizations, and institutions, tailored the research to constituents’ needs and concerns, “pioneering a new, more holistic approach to energy analysis that centers the community in the conversation,” NREL said.

The analysis showed multiple paths exist for the city to reach its goal. Each scenario follows a similar trajectory up to 80%–90% renewable generation. Wind and solar resources, enabled by storage, provide the majority of energy required to meet future load: 73%–92% depending on the scenario.

Where the pathways diverge is in how to cost effectively and reliably meet the remaining energy demand that cannot be easily served by wind, solar, and batteries, NREL noted.

For the last 10% (going from 90% renewable electricity to 100%), all scenarios rely on some type of renewably fueled combustion turbine built inside the city that can come online within minutes and run for several days when needed.

Such technology is still used infrequently, like peaking plants today, NREL said. Because there are few commercially available, near-term options for this type of grid service, meeting the challenge of the final stretch toward 100% “highlights future research directions at the local scale and beyond — such as developing the infrastructure required to produce and store hydrogen, or multi-day demand response programs that could provide a lower-cost alternative,” NREL said.

It noted that LA100 establishes a methodology that could inform other municipalities “similarly interested in a clean, equitable, and reliable energy future.”

Along with expertise from partners at the University of Southern California, Colorado State University, and Kearns & West, the study relied on NREL’s objective, holistic capabilities to analyze potential pathways the community can take to achieve Los Angeles’ goal, NREL said.

There is no single model that can perform a study of this scope, so the analysis combined dozens of them — spanning detailed electricity demand modeling, power system investments and operations, distribution grid modeling, economic impact analysis, and life cycle greenhouse gas analysis, among others.

Using NREL’s supercomputer, experts ran more than 100 million ultrahigh-resolution simulations to evaluate a range of future scenarios for how LADWP’s power system could evolve while maintaining its current high degree of reliability.

The study found that decarbonizing the power sector through renewable deployment helps create the enabling conditions for electrifying the buildings and transportation sectors.

“Together, these changes yield large reductions in carbon emissions and air pollutants, which lead to health and other benefits for disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged communities alike, compared with today. However, ensuring prioritization of environmental justice — per the Los Angeles City Council motivations driving the study — would require intentionally designed decision-making processes and policies/programs that prioritize disadvantaged communities,” NREL said.

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