Moniz nonprofit tackles grid study

Source: Christa Marshall, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, June 23, 2017

Former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz is unveiling a new nonprofit whose first project will be examining the electric grid.

The Energy Futures Initiative, which Moniz is leading with former Department of Energy officials Melanie Kenderdine and Joseph Hezir, is aiming to “decarbonize electricity,” advance energy technologies and boost energy security.

At an event at the National Press Club this morning, Moniz said the group has been in formation since he left office in January and was not created in response to recent events.

The initial funder of Energy Futures Initiative is the Emerson Collective, although Moniz said he’s in discussions with others. Emerson Collective Managing Partner Andy Karsner will be on EFI’s Advisory Board, Moniz said.

“We will be looking at deep ‘decarbonization’ pathways,” said Moniz about a focus of the nonprofit, which he said is not about advocacy or politics. “There will be a need for a lot of analytically based, technologically savvy studies.”

That is especially true for regions and cities trying to move to lower-carbon systems, he said. Some of the concepts for the group’s projects will be informed by earlier DOE reports, such as the Quadrennial Energy Review, he said.

Despite President Trump’s announcement to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement, cities, regions and universities “are not going back,” Moniz said. It’s critical to search for technology breakthroughs, he said, to meet deep decarbonization goals by midcentury.

All of EFI’s data and reports will be published, he said.

The idea is to examine a specific challenge, whether carbon capture and storage or nuclear power, and do a thorough examination to underpin policy.

While there are many other groups doing energy policy analysis, Moniz said the initiative could play a unique role by being “agile” and tapping a long list of experts quickly to tackle an issue.

The expert list ranges from former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft to Massachusetts Institute of Technology carbon capture expert Howard Herzog.

The board of advisers includes John Browne, executive chairman of L1 Energy, a global investment firm, and former CEO of BP PLC. An EFI research team of associates includes Ellen Williams (Energywire, June 21).

DOE is conducting a study of grid reliability that has been viewed as a potential attack on renewables.

Even though a grid study will be EFI’s first project, Moniz said it wasn’t designed to counter the department’s work. EFI’s analysis won’t be released until the fall, while DOE’s study is expected to be released this month.

“It will probably have some overlap with the DOE study,” but “the timing is quite different,” Moniz said. “We’re just starting.”

The EFI project will examine baseload power, as will DOE’s project.

The former DOE chief also weighed in about a fierce debate about the prospect of 100 percent renewable power, in the spotlight after the release of a scientific study this week (Climatewire, June 20).

“We can certainly see a pathway to very low and maybe no carbon” in the electricity sector, Moniz said.

But he said he is technology neutral and emphasized that regional variations are critical in moving to low-carbon energy. Renewables may be the only part of the equation in some areas, but not in others, he said.

Natural gas will continue to be important, but at some point may need carbon capture and sequestration tied to it, he said.

“All of these kind of straitjacket approaches don’t make sense. … Regional variation will be critical,” he said.

When asked about the stalled Yucca Mountain, Nev., nuclear repository project, Moniz said he didn’t want to “wade back” into the issue but that a consent-based process is the only way to go.

“I do not see that at this stage in Nevada,” he said.

Moniz praised comments by Energy Secretary Rick Perry in support of research and development, but said there’s a disconnect between Perry’s words and Trump’s budget request, which would slash funding at the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and eliminate programs like the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.

“The budget as proposed is quite simply a non-starter,” Moniz said. “Across the board, it doesn’t do the job.”