ORIGINAL REPORTING: The US power sector is halfway to net zero emissions, but it gets harder now
The US power sector is halfway to net zero emissions, but it gets harder now, analysts say; Renewables led the power sector's recent energy transition, but breakthroughs are needed to decarbonize the transportation, building and industrial sectors.
Herman K. Trabish, August 4, 2021 (Utility Dive)
Editor’s note: Renewables penetrations will keep growing but the best technologies to address long duration variability are yet to be identified.
The U.S. power sector's significant reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation over the past 15 years is an indication of what bolder efforts can be achieved by other economic sectors. But reaching economy-wide net zero carbon emissions comes with costs, challenges and uncertainties, researchers, power system analysts, utilities and the business sector agree.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from electricity generation in 2020 were about half the projections made in 2005 and 40% below actual 2005 levels, according to a Department of Energy (DOE) April 2021 study. But economy-wide net zero emissions (NZE) by 2050 will require a transition to electrification and clean energy for transportation, building, and various industrial sectors at unprecedented scale and speed, along with support from still-unproven or even undiscovered technologies to eliminate or offset all CO2, other studies and private sector observers said.
"The first step in reducing emissions is avoiding their increase, but the U.S. actually lowered power sector emissions in the last two decades, which has clarified the roadmap" to Biden administration economy-wide NZE goals by mid-century, said Ryan Wiser, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) senior scientist and study lead author. But achieving the administration's goals will require technology advances and new policy levers to achieve "a scale-up the likes of which we have not historically observed."
The 2020s must be about deployment of renewables, storage, transitioning away from older coal assets, and evolving operations to integrate intermittency, agreed Edison Electric Institute (EEI) General Counsel and Senior Vice President of Clean Energy Emily Fisher. Carbon-Free Technology Initiative work shows "we will need new technologies after 2030 to keep the grid reliable and affordable, but we don't know what engineers and scientists will develop yet," Fisher said.
But economy-wide NZE by 2050 will require "an estimated $2.5 trillion investment" in today's technologies and in unproven technologies that offer optional potential pathways to emissions cuts in the 2030s, according to Princeton University Postdoctoral Research Associate Erin Mayfield, a co-author of Princeton's comprehensive Net Zero America study.
That next step's options are for future NZE solutions in baseload power along with transportation, building and industrial electrification, LBNL, Princeton and others' research shows. Investment decisions of great concern to utilities and other businesses must be made among the many types of still emerging technologies and fuels, ranging from advanced battery storage and nuclear to green hydrogen, and solutions remain uncertain, researchers and industry groups said… click here for more