AMS 2024 Session Highlight: Transition to Carbon-Free Energy Generation

A line of wind turbines

The AMS 2024 Presidential Panel Session “Transition to Carbon-Free Energy Generation” discusses crucial challenges to the Energy Enterprise’s transition to renewables, and the AMS community’s role in solving them. Working in the carbon-free energy sector on research and development including forecasting and resource assessment, grid integration, and weather and climate effects on generation and demand, the session’s organizers know what it’s like to be on the frontlines of climate solutions. We spoke with all four of them–NSF NCAR’s Jared A. Lee, John Zack of MESO, Inc., and Nick P. Bassill and Jeff Freedman of the University at Albany–about what to expect, and how the session ties into the 104th Annual Meeting’s key theme of “Living in a Changing Environment.” Join us for this session Thursday, 1 February at 10:45 a.m. Eastern!

What was the impetus for organizing this session?

Jared: With the theme of the 2024 AMS Annual Meeting being, “Living in a Changing Environment,” it is wonderfully appropriate to have a discussion about our in-progress transition to carbon-free energy generation, as a key component to dramatically reduce the pace of climate change. But instead of merely having this be yet another forum in which we lay out the critical need for the energy transition, we organized this session with these panelists (Debbie Lew, Justin Sharp, Alexander “Sandy” MacDonald, and Aidan Tuohy) to shine a light on some real issues, hurdles, and barriers that must be overcome before we can start adding carbon-free energy generation at the pace that would be needed to meet aggressive clean-energy goals that many governments have by 2040 or 2050. The more that the weather–water–climate community is aware of these complex issues, the more we as a community can collectively focus on developing practical, innovative, and achievable solutions to them, both in science/technology and in policy/regulations. 

Jeff: We are at an inflection point in terms of the growth of renewable energy generation, with hundreds of billions of dollars committed to funding R&D efforts. To move forward towards renewable energy generation goals requires an informed public and providing policy makers with the information and options necessary.

Required fossil fuel and renewable energy production trajectories to meet renewable energy goals. Graphic by Jeff Freedman, using data from USEIA.

Since now both energy generation and demand will be dominated by what the weather and climate are doing, it is important that we take advantage of the talent we have in our community of experts to support these efforts. We are only 16 years out from a popular target date (2040) to reach 100% renewable energy generation. That’s not very far away. Communication and the exchange of ideas regarding problems and potential solutions are key to generating public confidence in our abilities to reach these goals within these timelines without disruption to the grid or economic impacts on people’s wallets.

What are some of the barriers to carbon-free energy that the AMS community is poised to help address?

Jeff and John: From a meteorological and climatological perspective, we have pretty high confidence in establishing what the renewable energy resource is in a given area. .. We have, for the most part, developed very good forecasting tools for predicting generation out to the next day at least. But sub-seasonal (beyond a week) and seasonal forecasting for renewables remains problematic. We know that the existing transmission infrastructure needs to be upgraded, thousands of miles of new transmission needs to be built, siting and commissioning timelines need to be shortened, and we need to coordinate the retirement of fossil fuel generation and its simultaneous replacement with renewables to insure grid stability. This panel will discuss some of the potential solutions we have at hand, and what is/are the best pathway(s) forward. 

On the other hand, meeting the various state and federal targets regarding 100% renewable energy generation also implicates other unresolved issues, such as:  how will we accelerate the necessary mining, manufacturing, and construction and operation by a factor of nearly five in order to achieve these power generation goals? Not to mention how all this is affected by financing, the current patchwork of … regulatory schemes, NIMBY issues, and a constantly changing landscape of policy initiatives (depending on how the political wind is blowing–sorry for the pun!). And of course, there is the question of the “unknown unknowns!”

What will AMS 104th attendees gain from the session?

Nick: Achieving the energy transition is fundamental for the health and success of all societies globally, and indeed, may be one of the defining topics of history books for this time. With that said, the transition to carbon-free energy will not be a straight line, and many factors are important for achieving success. This session should provide an understanding of the current status of our transition, and what obstacles and key questions need to be overcome and answered, respectively, to complete our transition.

Header photo: Wind turbines operating on an oil patch in a wind farm south of Lubbock, Texas. Photo credit: Jeff Freedman.

About the AMS 104th Annual Meeting

The American Meteorological Society’s Annual Meeting brings together thousands of weather, water, and climate scientists, professionals, and students from across the United States and the world. Taking place 28 January to 1 February, 2024, the AMS 104th Annual Meeting will explore the latest scientific and professional advances in areas from renewable energy to space weather, weather and climate extremes, environmental health, and more. In addition, cross-cutting interdisciplinary sessions will explore the theme of Living in a Changing Environment, especially the role of the weather, water, and climate enterprise in helping improve society’s response to climate and environmental change. The Annual Meeting will be held at the Baltimore Convention Center, with online/hybrid participation options. Learn more at

“Current” Affairs at the 2014 AMS Washington Forum

by Ellen Klicka, AMS Policy Program
Very exciting developments are about to unfold at the Southeast National Marine Renewable Energy Center (SNMREC) at Florida Atlantic University: Ocean current energy developments.
Florida-CurrentSAt this week’s AMS Washington Forum, Dr. Camille Coley, Associate Director at SNMREC, will discuss the process her center is pioneering to get the nascent marine hydrokinetic industry off the ground and into the water, so to speak. Coley’s remarks are expected to touch on the realms of technology commercialization, environmental impacts, the federal regulation landscape, public-private partnerships, and the national energy agenda.
Leaders from the weather, water and climate enterprise are gathering for three days in Washington, DC, as they do every April, to discuss pressing issues, identify business opportunities and forge stronger relationships with federal policy makers. Due to the challenges marine hydrokinetics faces, the field serves as an informative microcosm of the multidisciplinary, multi-sector issues the AMS community shares. Such multifaceted explorations are typical of Washington Forum sessions.
Coley says harnessing offshore renewable energy sources could improve U.S. energy security. The oil price spike of the mid-2000s revived the U.S. Department of Energy’s original 1970s interest in what was then a fringe area of science involving the conversion of kinetic energy from ocean waves, tides and currents.
Resource assessments showed Southeastern Florida as a potential goldmine of ocean current resources, and the SNMREC was born in 2007. Wave and tidal energy technologies have seen a slightly clearer path from research to deployment because the action occurs near the shore in waters regulated at the state level, where establishing procedures can be a more nimble process than at the federal level. Currents strong enough to generate energy are found on the Outer Continental Shelf at least 12 miles offshore, in federal waters.
Nearly five years ago, SNMREC began working with the Minerals Management Service, now called the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), to obtain the first lease ever to be granted to install turbines on the Outer Continental Shelf. Both SNMREC and BOEM charted new territory as they took each step. In addition to applying for the permit under an interim policy set in 2007, BOEM conducted an environmental assessment and ensure compliance. The assessment surveyed areas of planned development for possible negative impacts on sea turtle, manatee, shark, deep water coral and other marine species populations. The Navy, NOAA, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and EPA all weighed in. Sensors and cameras have been installed to monitor the condition of the turbines and observe any approaching marine life.
The center expects the final green light this month and hopes to have pilot turbines in the water this year.
Coley notes lessons learned for future applicants seeking a BOEM license. Even with funding boosts from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, tight federal budgets have created challenges for public investment in research, development, pilot deployment and environmental impact checks. Private ocean current energy developers can’t obtain venture capital until the technology is proven. According to the Department of Energy’s Technology Readiness Level scale, which measures the maturity of technologies for application, ocean current energy scores a 4 on the scale from 1-9. Private financiers generally consider investing in technologies at level 8. Where will the money come from to drive ocean current energy up four more points? It’s the classic chicken and egg dilemma that could strand this emerging industry in the “valley of death” unless policy makers intervene.Ocean-Current-TurbinesS1
According to Coley, a federal renewable energy standard, combined with loans or tax credits for marine hydrokinetic energy development, would create demand and a secure market for additional renewable energy capacity.
The credits could be analogous to the production and investment tax credits already established for wind power. Incidentally, the Senate Finance Committee is aiming for this week to begin its consideration of how and whether to extend a bevy of temporary tax breaks that lapsed at the beginning of this year, such as the wind production tax credit (PTC) and other clean energy incentives. To date, no federal incentive bills have been introduced to encourage development and commercialization of marine hydrokinetics.
Coley also recommends a reevaluation of the regulatory process to assist timely project development and ensure appropriate attention to environmental and community safeguards. She says future ocean current permit applicants would benefit from increased collaboration among public and private entities, including the electricity industry, research engineers, aquatic scientists, environmentalists and community stakeholders.
Coley will participate in the Washington Forum’s Water-Energy Nexus panel Thursday, April 3 from 10:30 am – 12:00 pm. Can’t make it to DC? Follow the conversation with the hashtag #AMSWF or join the AMS Washington Forum LinkedIn group.