We need a clean grid for electrification in order to decarbonise
Experts agree: Electrification is essential to achieve deep decarbonization and reduce the worst impacts of climate change. This is why ‘electrify everything’ has become a simple, unifying principle for climate think tanks and NGOs – and inspired GreenBiz’s latest event, VERGE Electrify.
Of course, electrification will only decarbonize if there is enough clean, affordable power on the grid to meet growing demand. If all buildings, vehicles and industry were magically electrified with the current grid, emissions would actually increase in the short term. It’s because, depending on, depending on where you live, our electricity grid is not as clean. More than a quarter of energy in the United States still comes from coal.
But the grid is not static. The Electrify Everything movement is all about anticipating and preparing for a clean energy future. The devices that businesses and households buy today will be available for the next 10 to 30 years. In this time, the network will become much cleaner. It’s already the case.
The grid is already halfway to zero
A recent study by Berkeley Laboratory shows that the energy sector is decarbonizing faster than expected, with emissions half as high as 15 years ago. In 2005, many projections predicted that the power supply to the United States would reach 3,000 million metric tons (MMT) by 2020. In fact, direct electricity emissions reached 1,450 MMT.
“According to this metric, in just 15 years, the country’s electricity sector has gone halfway to zero emissions,” the report said.
The reason for the reduction: a bit of everything. Energy efficiency has improved, renewables have been brought into service and coal-fired power plants have been shut down faster than expected, and natural gas production has increased rapidly, which is less carbon intensive when it is burnt than coal.
The Berkeley Lab study illustrates how difficult it is to project the impacts of disruptive technologies. Renewable energies and climate technologies have fallen in price and deployed faster than expected. Examining trends in electricity generation in the twentieth century cannot capture the speed and scale of renewables, which are already the cheapest form of energy based on level costs and will continue to decline.
The second half of decarbonization will be more complicated. In the words from VERGE Electrify innovator and advisor Saul Griffith, “You can’t ‘efficiency’ to reach zero; it requires transformation.”
Politics is the key to getting to zero
There are clear political signals in favor of a carbon-free network. More … than 40% of Americans live in a state or district with 100% clean energy, zero net emissions or carbon neutrality goals. Getting there will be complicated, as utilities are responsible for ensuring accessibility, reliability and affordability.
California, the largest state in the country with a goal of achieving 100% clean energy by 2045, recently released a 179 pages report describing different strategies to achieve this goal. The report is a microcosm of what regulators and energy providers will face across the county. High-level take-out meals:
- Achieving 100% clean energy is technically feasible.
- California will need to maintain record construction rates for new renewables.
California has never built more than 2.7 gigawatts of rooftop solar power or 1 gigawatt of wind power in a year. In order to have a chance of meeting its 100% target, the state will need to deploy at least this capability every year for the next 25 years. In addition, the state will need to deploy a suite of other technologies, including batteries, long-term storage and demand response.
Given the disruptive nature of renewable energy and its hockey stick growth curve, achieving this goal doesn’t seem strange. But California will need to prepare for and address tipping points, including workforce development, land use planning, supply chains, and the regulatory process. This means that a lot of players have to shoot in the same direction.
Unfortunately, border alignment is currently elusive. Even though some states are pushing hard for clean energy, more than 31 states have adopted local or state restrictions to limit renewable energy deployments, according to a Columbia study. Sabin Center for Climate Change Law. Energy policy is already a confusing patchwork of regulations, with utilities operating in energy markets that stretch beyond state lines and are subject to state utility commissions wherever they operate. .
Clear political signals from the federal level can be essential to harmonize efforts. And if the Biden administration is successful, there may soon be a 100% clean energy goal for the whole country by 2035.
How to do your part
As utilities and policymakers make the grid cleaner and cleaner, businesses and consumers will have millions of individual opportunities to choose machines and devices that can run on clean electricity.
“How quickly we decarbonize depends on us making each of these choices correctly at the next opportunity,” Griffith wrote in an article. Last year. “You can think of this as buying your own clean infrastructure, the things that will make your life fit into the new zero carbon infrastructure of the 21st century.”