PICTURE: Regardless of which path we take to become climate neutral by 2050, the measures required over the next 10 years will be the same. view More
Photo credit: Jenny Nuss / Berkeley Lab)
Achieving zero net carbon dioxide emissions from energy and industry by 2050 can be achieved by transforming US energy infrastructure to run primarily on renewable energies. This is according to new research by the Department of Energy that has a net cost of about $ 1 per person per day at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), University of San Francisco (USF), and consulting firm Evolved Energy Research.
Researchers created a detailed model of the entire U.S. energy and industrial system to produce the first in-depth, peer-reviewed study of how to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world needs to achieve no net CO2 emissions by mid-century to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and avoid the most dangerous effects of climate change.
Researchers developed several viable technology pathways that differ widely in terms of remaining fossil fuel consumption, land use, consumer acceptance, nuclear power, and bio-based fuel use, but sharing a number of key strategies. “By methodically increasing energy efficiency, switching to electrical technologies, using clean electricity (especially wind and solar energy), and using a small amount of technology for carbon capture, the US can achieve zero-emission products,” the authors write in “Carbon Neutral Pathways” for the United States, “recently published in AGU Advances.
Redesign of the infrastructure
“Decarbonising the US energy system is essentially an infrastructure transformation,” said Margaret Torn, senior scientist at Berkeley Lab, one of the study's lead authors. “This means that by 2050 we will have to build many gigawatts of wind and solar power plants, new transmission lines, a fleet of electric cars and light trucks, millions of heat pumps to replace traditional stoves and water heaters, and more energy-efficient buildings – while new technologies continue to be researched and innovated . ”
In this transition, very little infrastructure would need “early retirement” or replacement before the end of their economic life. “Nobody is asking consumers to swap their brand new car for an electric vehicle,” said Torn. “The point is, efficient, low-carbon technologies must be used when it comes to replacing the current equipment.”
The routes studied have net costs between 0.2% and 1.2% of GDP, with higher costs being due to certain tradeoffs, such as limiting the amount of land for solar and wind parks. In the most cost-effective ways, around 90% of electricity generation comes from wind and sun. One scenario showed that the US could meet all of its energy needs with 100% renewable energy (sun, wind and bioenergy), but that would cost more and require more land use.
“We were pleasantly surprised that the cost of the transformation is now lower than similar studies we did five years ago, even though it achieves a much more ambitious carbon reduction,” said Torn. “The main reason is that the cost of wind, solar and electric vehicle batteries has fallen faster than expected.”
The scenarios were created using new energy models that include details of energy consumption and production – such as the total US building stock, vehicle fleet, power plants, etc. – for 16 geographic regions in the US. The costs were calculated using projections for fossil fuels and prices for renewable energies from the DOE Annual Energy Outlook and the NREL Annual Technology Baseline Report.
The costs would be even lower if they took into account the economic and climatic benefits of decarbonising our energy systems. For example, less reliance on oil means less money spent on oil and less economic uncertainty due to fluctuations in oil prices. Climate benefits include avoiding the effects of climate change such as extreme droughts and hurricanes, avoiding air and water pollution from burning fossil fuels, and improving public health.
The economic costs of the scenarios are almost exclusively capital costs for building new infrastructure. However, Torn notes that there is an economic benefit to this spending: “All of the infrastructure build equates to jobs, and possibly jobs, in the US rather than sending money overseas to buy oil from other countries. that this is necessary. ” be a well-designed economic transition strategy for fossil fuel industries and communities, but there is no question that there are many jobs in building a low carbon economy. ”
The next 10 years
An important finding from this study is that the actions required over the next 10 years will be similar regardless of long-term differences between the pathways. In the near future, we need to increase the generation and transmission of renewable energy, ensure that all new infrastructures such as cars and buildings are low-carbon, and maintain current natural gas capacity for the time being for reliability reasons.
“This is a very important finding. We don't have to fight a huge battle now over issues like building nuclear power plants in the short term, as we don't need new nuclear power plants to be zero in the next decade. Instead, we should take action to stop the steps advancing what we know are needed now while accelerating research and development and evolving our options for the choices we need to make by the 2030s, “said the study's senior author, Jim Williams, Associate Professor of Energy Systems Management at USF and a scientist associated with Berkeley Lab.
The net negative case
Another major achievement of this study is that it is the first published work to provide a detailed roadmap for how the U.S. energy and industrial system can become a source of negative carbon emissions by mid-century, meaning more Carbon dioxide taken from the atmosphere is considered added.
According to the study, the US energy and industrial system with higher levels of carbon sequestration, biofuels and electrical fuels could be “net negative” as 500 tons of CO2 are removed from the atmosphere each year. (This would require more power generation, land use, and interstate transmission to achieve this.) The authors calculated the cost of this negative net route to be 0.6% of GDP – only slightly higher than the cost of the main carbon neutral route of 0.4% GDP. “This is affordable to society for energy reasons only,” said Williams.
Combined with increasing uptake of CO2 by the country, mainly from changes in agricultural and forest management practices, the researchers calculated that the negative net emissions scenario would put the US on a global path to reduce atmospheric CO2 concentrations to 350 ppm (parts per million) at some distance in the future. The 350 ppm end point of this global trajectory has been described by many scientists as necessary to stabilize the climate at levels similar to pre-industrial levels.
The study was partially supported by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, a United Nations initiative.
The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and its scientists were founded in 1931 with the belief that the greatest scientific challenges can best be overcome by teams and have been awarded 14 Nobel Prizes. Today, researchers at the Berkeley Lab are developing sustainable energy and environmental solutions, creating useful new materials, pushing the limits of computing and exploring the secrets of life, matter and the universe. Scientists from around the world rely on the laboratory's facilities for their own science of discovery. The Berkeley Lab is a national multi-program laboratory administered by the University of California for the US Department of Energy's Office of Science.
The DOE Office of Science is the biggest proponent of basic science in the United States, working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. More information is available at energy.gov/science.