Over the past three years, more than 70 electric utilities, serving roughly 81 percent of American customers, have launched significant carbon emissions pledges. Concurrently, many have made clear in those pledges that they need firm, flexible clean energy. Thankfully, clean energy innovation and huge investment in sectors like nuclear energy, carbon capture, and geothermal is turning goals into reality.
The last year has been an exciting time for clean energy startups and technological innovation. BloombergNEF estimates that venture capital and private equity invested more than $57 billion in climate-related technologies. Corporate net-zero commitments were followed by more than $23 billion in corporate venture funds invested in businesses in the climate-technology sector. Deals were cut, MOUs were signed, and project partnerships were solidified that lay the foundation for an array of first-of-kind technology deployments eyeing mid-2020 operations.
Here are some of just a handful of power projects ClearPath is tracking.
Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage:
Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage (CCUS) technologies are essential to affordably reduce global carbon dioxide emissions. The United States leads the world in the development of CCUS, and the increase in private sector net-zero commitments plus Congress’ expansion of the 45Q tax incentive have driven dramatic growth in U.S. projects. 2021 was the largest single-year increase in the project pipeline, and the United States led the way with nearly half of the more than 70 new project announcements. Two major private sector milestones last year made us even more optimistic about the American CCUS future:
- At 2022 CERAweek in Houston, 8 Rivers Capital, LLC (8 Rivers), the owner of NET Power, a game-changing natural gas power plant technology operating with zero emissions, announced a $100 million private sector investment from the South Korean conglomerate SK Group to deploy carbon capture, hydrogen production, direct air capture, and other technologies globally. The company’s NET Power pilot in LaPorte, Texas put electricity on the grid for the first time in the state just before Thanksgiving. They are slated to advance their first two commercial U.S. power projects by the mid-2020s, with a total of 560MW of power capacity. This is enough power for 280,000 homes. The Broadwing Clean Energy Complex in Decatur, IL will store captured carbon 1.5 miles underground at the nearby Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM) site, and the Coyote Clean Power Project will be sited on the Southern Ute Indian Reservation in Colorado.
- Project Tundra, a public-private project that would retrofit the Milton R. Young Station coal power plant in North Dakota, continues to work towards mid-2020s operation after receiving its Class VI injection permit in late January. This project would capture up to 90 percent of carbon dioxide emissions from the Milton R. Young Station, taking 4 million metric tons of carbon out of the atmosphere annually — the equivalent of 800,000 gasoline-fueled vehicles off the road. North Dakota, one of only two states to receive Class VI primacy from the EPA, has issued two permits since gaining the authority, including the Red Trail Energy project, within one year of submission.
You have heard a lot about the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP), and the teams at TerraPower and X-energy hit some major milestones at the end of the year. TerraPower officially selected Kemmerer, WY for its first Natrium reactor, slated to be in service by 2028. X-energy completed the initial designs for its first-of-a-kind fuel fabrication facility capable of handling High-Assay Low-Enriched Uranium (HALEU) in November, which will fuel its Xe-100 reactor to be built in Washington State. Smaller ARDP awardees have also announced new milestones, such as Kairos Power’s test reactor in Tennessee and Westinghouse’s recent award in Canada. But there is more than just the ARDP-supported projects. Venture funding for both nuclear fission and fusion startups spiked last year at $3.4 billion alone. There are a variety of other cutting-edge companies racing to commercialize. Two significant announcements occurred just last month:
- The Seattle-based Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC) and Copper Valley Electric Association (CVEA) announced a deal in early February to deploy their 10-megawatt electric micro facility in Alaska. This is a particularly interesting story because CVEA is not interconnected to any other electric utility and is dependent on two diesel plants to meet ~15% of its annual system energy requirements. This follows USNC’s plan to build its first reactor in Canada by 2026.
- At their board meeting on February 10, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) announced a new nuclear program as it explores the use of small modular reactors (SMR) for achieving its goal of net-zero by 2050. Concurrently, TVA is in discussions to support the GE Hitachi (GEH) light-water SMR design, the GEH BWRX-300, which could be deployed at their NRC-approved Clinch River Site in Oak Ridge, Tennessee in the next decade. This comes on the heels of GEH’s deal with Ontario Power Generation in Canada to build that same design at its Darlington site around 2028.
Geothermal energy is a clean and reliable, renewable resource that has gained significant momentum in recent years. Since late 2019, nine new geothermal power purchase agreements (PPAs) have been signed and companies have nearly 60 active developing projects and prospects across nine U.S. states. Meanwhile, California’s recent order for 1,000MW of geothermal power to enhance grid reliability by 2026 could dramatically increase the scale of geothermal development. The advent of new drilling technologies, combined with the strong demand for firm clean electricity, positions next-generation technologies to further this boon:
- Fervo Energy is an innovative geothermal energy company combining hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling to reach further underground and capture additional heat to produce steam. Last year, Fervo closed $28 million in Series B funding and announced a 5 MW demonstration project with Google to power their data centers in Nevada. The deal is part of Google’s commitment to use “24/7 carbon-free energy” by 2030. Fervo has since received a $4.5 million ARPA-E award to demonstrate the use of geothermal reservoirs as energy storage, a technique that a recent academic paper found could increase the value of geothermal energy by up to 44 percent.
- Companies like Berkshire Hathaway Energy (BHE) and Controlled Thermal Resources (CTR) are investing in facilities in the Salton Sea in California that can co-produce geothermal electricity and lithium from brines. This represents a new value stream for geothermal power plants in the region, as well as a domestic source of lithium, a critical mineral. CTR has a power purchase agreement with imperial valley to supply 40MW of power with lithium extraction, and BHE is breaking ground on a demonstration facility this spring.
Many of these projects have benefited from the numerous bipartisan clean energy policy wins enacted by Congress in recent years, like the 2018 clean energy incentive deal (which included the 45Q carbon capture and 45J advanced nuclear credit reforms) and the Energy Act of 2020. These are just a few of the exciting private sector developments from the past 12 months that we are excited to move forward with construction. Stay tuned as they move forward and pave the way for a low-emissions power grid that is reliable and affordable for Americans.