National Grid plans to cut carbon 80% by 2050

Source: Rod Kuckro, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Northeast utility National Grid on Friday released a blueprint to sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the region 40 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050.

The “Northeast 80×50 Pathway” syncs with similar goals of the states where the electric and natural gas utility operates — New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island — said Rudolph Wynter, president and COO for transmission, generation and energy procurement at National Grid.

The utility delivers electricity to 3.3 million customers and natural gas to 3.4 million customers.

Wynter said in an interview that the company analyzed the various pathways to achieving greenhouse gas emission reductions. He said cutting into heat-trapping carbon emissions will mean meaningful reductions by the power sector and the transportation sector but also a shift in how a large part of the population heat their homes.

“It absolutely means we’re going to import more hydro from Canada,” Wynter said, as well as invest further in renewables.

By 2030, he said, 67 percent of the electricity supply will need to be zero-carbon generation. Half of the portion will be renewable energy.

Currently, renewables account for 45 percent of National Grid’s electricity supply. By 2050, the goal is to have a zero-carbon electricity system.

National Grid’s plan is unrelated to a new movement among other investor-owned electric utilities to burnish their green bona fides, Wynter said.

Recently, the Edison Electric Institute unveiled a template to help its investors better understand what their member companies are doing with regard to their sustainability-related activities and efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions (Energywire, May 21).

The plan does not envision closing National Grid’s natural gas plants. Instead, the utility says it will burn natural gas as cleanly as possible, Wynter said.

“Our view is [natural gas plants] are going to have to coexist with renewables just to firm up the level of renewables we’re talking about here,” he said.

National Grid is investing in an emerging set of technologies that hold promise that the natural gas network “can be decarbonized,” Wynter said.

“Renewable natural gas” — low-carbon gas options for power generation and home heating — include capturing fugitive natural gas burned off from wastewater treatment facilities and harvested from farming waste streams, he said.

Energy efficiency will be emphasized even more during National Grid’s transition, Wynter said, especially if “we’re going to make a big dent in the heating sector,” which in parts of New England still rely on fuel oil, propane and kerosene.

The aim is to increasingly electrify residential heating to a level of 28 percent by 2030, up from 2 percent today and continue converting fuel oil users to natural gas.

But changes in the transportation sector offer the biggest prize in getting to a zero carbon future, Wynter said. “By and large we can’t get there if we don’t move the transportation sector. We can’t do it on the back of the power sector alone.”

That will mean achieving electric vehicle penetration of 50 percent by 2030 from less than 2 percent today. “Customer range anxiety issues continue to drag on,” he said, requiring a proactive effort to address affordability, access and awareness to reach that goal.

For National Grid, that will mean a push to expand EV charging infrastructure, which “hasn’t kept pace with EV adoption,” he said.

Funding for more charging infrastructure could come from an expansion in the Northeast of a carbon-pricing mechanism similar to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative that places a price on carbon emissions from the power sector, Wynter said.

Efforts are underway in New York and the New England states to create a program similar to RGGI that would price carbon in the transportation sector, he said.