US Could Reach Net-Zero By 2050 With More Benefits Than Costs — Report: The United States could achieve net-zero carbon pollution by 2050, address societal inequities, and reap benefits far greater than the costs, according to a report released Tuesday by the National Academies of Sciences. The report recommends five main reforms, to be funded in part by a rising $40/ton carbon tax: improving building efficiency; electrifying transportation and building heating; getting 75% of electricity from clean sources by 2030; increasing transmission capacity; and tripling government investment in clean energy research. At an annual cost of about $300 billion over status quo spending levels, the report found the reforms would more than pay for themselves in public health benefits alone. With the correct policies in place, the reforms would have dramatic benefits for working class communities and communities of color disproportionately harmed for fossil fuel extraction and consumption, as well as communities historically dependent on fossil fuels. “You should want to do this even if you didn’t care about climate,” Stephen Pacala, a Princeton University professor who chaired the 17-member committee that produced the report, told E&E. (Politico Pro $, E&E $, Forbes)
The report calls for 75% of electricity from carbon-free sources by 2030, with zero-emission vehicles accounting for 50% of vehicle sales by the same date. The report also calls for a 50% reduction in new building energy use by 2030 and an expansion of the nation’s transmission infrastructure, in addition to a tripling of federal investment in research, development and demonstration of emerging technologies. The panelists said 50% of the effort will need to go to help supporting communities and people from being left behind, but many co-benefits are possible.
Consensus Study Report HIGHLIGHTS
The world is transforming its energy system from one dominated by fossil fuel combustion to one with net-zero emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the primary anthropogenic greenhouse gas. This energy transition is critical to mitigating climate change, protecting human health, and revitalizing the U.S. economy.
To help policymakers, businesses, communities, and the public better understand what a net-zero transition would mean for the United States, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine convened a committee of experts to investigate how the U.S. could best decarbonize its transportation, electricity, buildings, and industrial sectors. This report, Accelerating Decarbonization of the U.S. Energy System, identifies key technological and socio-economic goals that must be achieved to put the United States on the path to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The report presents a policy blueprint outlining critical nearterm actions for the first decade (2021-2030) of this 30-year effort, including ways to support communities that will be most impacted by the transition.
In order to reach net-zero carbon by 2050, the United States must begin taking action now to accomplish five main technology goals. Meeting these objectives over the current decade (2021-2030) will be essential to making the net-zero transition possible on a 30-year timeframe, so that long-lived energy infrastructure can be replaced with zero-carbon alternatives.
Produce carbon-free electricity: The nation needs to double the share of electricity generated by non-carbon-emitting sources to at least 75% by 2030. This will require record-setting deployment of solar and wind technologies, scaling back coal and some gas-fired power plants, and preserving operating nuclear plants and hydroelectric facilities where possible.
(higher replacement ratio for new furnaces than vehicles?)
Electrify energy services in transportation, buildings, and industry: By 2030, the nation should aim for 50% of new vehicle sales across all classes to be zero-emission vehicles. The U.S. should replace 20% or more of fossil fuel furnaces with electric heat pumps in buildings and initiate policies so that new construction is all electric except in the coldest climate zones. Where industrial processes cannot be fully electrified, they should begin the transition to low-carbon heat sources.
Invest in energy efficiency and productivity: By 2030, total energy use by new buildings should be reduced by 50%. In existing buildings, energy used for space conditioning and plug-in devices should be lowered every year to achieve a 30% reduction by 2030. Goals for industrial energy productivity (dollars of economic output per energy consumed) should increase each year. Accelerating Decarbonization of the U.S. Energy System February 2021
Plan, permit, and build critical infrastructure: By 2030, the nation should increase overall electrical transmission capacity by approximately 40% in order to better distribute high quality and low-cost wind and solar power from where it is generated to where it can be used across the country. The nation should also accelerate the build-out of the electric vehicle recharging network and initiate a national CO2 capture, transport, and disposal network to ensure that CO2 can be removed from point sources across the country.
Expand the innovation toolkit: The nation should triple federal investment in clean energy research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) in order to provide new technology options, reduce costs for existing options, and better understand how to manage a socially-just energy transition.
A complete transformation of the energy system will affect most aspects of life in the United States, with impacts far beyond the deployment of new technologies. A net-zero emissions economy would combine the nation’s impressive energy resources and culture of innovation to ameliorate ongoing social injustices in today’s energy system and fairly distribute both opportunities and costs. Studies estimate that the transition could increase net employment by one to two million jobs over the next decade and revitalize multiple U.S. economic sectors. Policies to enable the transition to net-zero emissions should be designed to advance four critical socio-economic goals to ensure an equitable transition:
Strengthen the U.S. economy: Global demand for clean energy and climate mitigation solutions will reach trillions of dollars over the coming decades. The transition to a net-zero emissions economy provides an opportunity to revitalize U.S. manufacturing, construction, and commercial sectors, while providing a net increase in jobs paying higher wages than the national average.
Promote equity and inclusion: U.S. policies should promote equitable access to the benefits of clean energy systems, including reliable and affordable energy, new training and employment opportunities, and opportunities for wealth creation. Policies that facilitate the transition to a net-zero emissions economy should also work to eliminate inequities in the current energy system that disadvantage historically marginalized and low-income populations.
Support communities, businesses, and workers: Any fundamental technological and economic transition creates new opportunities as well as job losses and other associated impacts in legacy industries. There will be a need to identify and mitigate impacts on labor sectors and communities negatively impacted by the transition of the U.S. economy to net-zero emissions. U.S. policies should promote fair access to new long-term employment opportunities and provide financial and other support to communities that might otherwise be harmed by the transition.
Maximize cost-effectiveness: A cost-effective strategy (balanced by equity considerations) will reduce carbon emissions, strengthen the U.S. economy, and avoid undue burdens on American households and businesses during the transition to a net-zero emissions economy. If the country can avoid spending more than necessary to achieve net-zero emissions, additional resources will be available to meet other societal needs.
The study committee came to its conclusions after extensively reviewing previous studies on various possible decarbonization pathways between now and 2050. In these studies, several key messages consistently emerge:
- Deep decarbonization is technologically feasible, but will require fundamental shifts in our energy systems.
- Energy spending during a net-zero transition will be manageable and less than historical expenditures.
- The socio-economic dimensions of the transition must be considered alongside technological change.
- Creating a net-zero emissions energy system could revitalize the U.S. economy. These changes provide the opportunity to promote equity and inclusion and support communities, businesses, and workers.
- Long lifetimes for energy infrastructure will limit the pace of the transition. As existing assets reach the end of their life cycles, they must be replaced by equipment consistent with the net-zero transition plan.
- Repurposing existing fossil fuel infrastructure can reduce the overall costs of the transition while reducing the potential for stranded assets and workers.
- A net-zero emissions economy is very different from an economy with more modest carbon reductions.
- Policies that produce only incremental reductions in emissions without facilitating the transformation can lead to technology lock-in and make deep decarbonization by mid-century unattainable.
KEY SYSTEM-WIDE POLICIES TO SUPPORT DECARBONIZATION IN THE UNITED STATES The report recommends a series of policy changes to support the net-zero transition in the United States. In particular, it calls for implementing a set of key system-wide policies, including:
- Setting an official emissions budget for the US for CO2 and other GHGs to support the goal of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050
- An economy-wide price on carbon, in addition to other policies focusing on particular sectors
- A new National Transition Task Force to evaluate how best to support labor sectors and communities that will be affected by the energy transition
- A new Office of Equitable Energy Transitions within the White House to establish criteria, measure, and report back on net-zero transition impacts and equity considerations
- A new independent National Transition Corporation to provide support and opportunities for displaced workers and affected communities
- A new Green Bank, initially capitalized at $30 billion, to ensure the required capital is available for the net-zero transition and to mobilize greater private investment
- A comprehensive education and training initiative to develop the workforce required for the net-zero transition, to fuel future innovation, and to provide new high-quality jobs
- Triple federal investment in clean energy RD&D at the Department of Energy over the next ten years as well as the support for social science research on the socio-economic aspects of advancing the transition
Projected expenditures for decarbonization efforts through 2050 (orange and purple shaded areas) vary depending on future levels of electrification, technology adoption, energy prices, and carbon capture. However, these projections as a proportion of GDP are similar to historical spending and business-as-usual cases (colored lines) as estimated by the Energy Information Administration (EIA). Therefore, achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 is not only possible, but on par with previously anticipated spending.
COMMITTEE ON ACCELERATING DECARBONIZATION IN THE UNITED STATES—TECHNOLOGY, POLICY, AND SOCIETAL DIMENSIONS
Stephen W. Pacala, NAS, Chair, Princeton University;
Colin Cunliff, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation;
Danielle Deane-Ryan, Libra Foundation;
Kelly Sims Gallagher, Tufts University Fletcher School;
Julia Haggerty, Montana State University;
Chris Hendrickson, NAE, Carnegie Mellon University;
Jesse D. Jenkins, Princeton University;
Roxanne Johnson, BlueGreen Alliance;
Timothy C. Lieuwen, NAE, Georgia Institute of Technology;
Vivian Loftness, Carnegie Mellon University;
Clark A. Miller, Arizona State University;
William A. Pizer, Duke University;
Varun Rai, University of Texas – Austin;
Ed Rightor, American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy;
Esther Takeuchi, NAE, Stony Brook University;
Susan F. Tierney, Analysis Group;
Jennifer Wilcox, Worcester Polytechnic Institute
This Consensus Study Report Highlights was prepared by the National Academies’ Board on Energy and Environmental Systems based on the report Accelerating Decarbonization of the U.S. Energy System (2021) Download the report at nap.edu/decarbonization.
KEY SECTOR-SPECIFIC POLICIES TO SUPPORT DECARBONIZATION IN THE US
In addition, this report calls for implementing a set of key sector-specific policies, including:
- Setting a clean energy standard for electricity generation designed to reach 75% clean electricity by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2050
- Congressional and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) actions to advance clean electricity markets and improve their regulation, design, and operation
- National zero-emissions vehicle standards for light, medium, and heavy-duty vehicles, including stronger Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards
- Manufacturing standards for zero-emissions appliances by 2050 while continuing to establish appliance minimum efficiency standards
- Requiring recipients of federal funds and their contractors to meet labor standards, and enforcing Buy America/Buy American provisions for federally-funded activities
- Invest in efficiency improvements for low-income households, expanded rural broadband access, and the electrification of tribal lands
For more information about the report, including a complete list of the report’s policy recommendations and discussion of sector-specific considerations, please check out our digital report overview at nap.edu/decarbonization. Learn more about the study and sign up for updates at nationalacademies.org/decarbonization.
GridLab study and Rewiring America
Faster closure of coal
Rate of shift to EVs in Europe
Feb 4, Utility Dive, NASEM
- With the cost of clean energy technologies plummeting, social factors may prove to be final barriers to a deep decarbonization of the U.S. economy, according to a new report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM).
- Thanks to a decade of rapidly declining costs, decarbonization is not only technically and financially feasible — it’s actually the most economical path forward, according to the NASEM report. The report also projects that decarbonization could add up to 2 million jobs to the U.S. economy.
- However, without policies to ensure an equitable transition that does not leave economically and racially diverse communities behind, the U.S. risks “yellow vest” social uprisings that could derail decarbonization, according to Stephen Pacala, a professor focused on climate change and systems ecology at Princeton University.
The vast majority of the technology needed to realize a full decarbonization of the U.S. economy exists, and most of the technology is more cost effective than fossil fueled alternatives, according to NASEM. But a committee assembled by the group to study decarbonization says all levels of government must do more to ensure the coming economic transition is just and fair to all.
The report, the first of two decarbonization studies planned by the NASEM, ultimately focused on the social factors that will determine the success of the U.S.’s energy transition, according to Pacala, who headed the 17-person committee behind the report.
The committee identified five technology goals to maintain the course to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, outlined in the report. Ideally, the U.S will source three-fourths of its energy from carbon-free sources by 2030, with zero-emission vehicles accounting for 50% of vehicle sales by the same date. The report also calls for a 50% reduction in new building energy use by 2030 and an expansion of the nation’s transmission infrastructure, in addition to a tripling of federal investment in research, development and demonstration of emerging technologies such as advanced nuclear reactors, carbon capture and sequestration, and hydrogen fuels.
“The National Academies’ new report … issues a clarion call for more clean energy innovation,” Colin Cunliff, senior policy analyst for the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation and a member of the NASEM decarbonization committee, wrote in a blog post after the report’s official release. The report “recognizes that innovation won’t happen without an assertive federal policy that involves much more than just basic funding.”
But the report also proposes policy action necessary to meet critical socioeconomic goals, such as ensuring jobs created by the economic transition are distributed in such a way that benefits diverse communities historically left behind in the U.S., while also making assistance available to communities that stand to suffer major job and tax revenue losses as fossil fuel production winds down.
Support could be provided through the creation of a new government agency proposed in the NASEM report, an independent national transition corporation, that would provide workers and communities with support in the event of job losses. A federal green bank, recommended by the report, could also provide funding for economic redevelopment in affected communities, Pacala said.
“Now that the transition is so much more affordable,” he said, “the primary concern is the impact on communities that depend on fossil fuels. We recognize that past transitions have been rocky, and that policy approaches that focus only on worker retraining have been inadequate.”
The committee highlighted the need to make resources available at all levels of government — including state and municipal governments, to avoid the failures of a one-size-fits all approach. They emphasized a need to make resources and funding available in communities with access to fewer economic resources as well, and the need for greater engagement with the public during the transition.
The report also recommends the adoption of a carbon tax, but at $40 per ton or less to avoid inequities in communities that cannot afford an increase in the price of carbon. The committee also spoke of a need to replace long-lived fossil fuel assets like power plants at the end of their working life, rather than retiring them early, to keep costs manageable.
“What we need to do with the timing of these stock turnovers,” said Jesse Jenkins, who leads the Zero Carbon Energy Systems Research and Optimization Laboratory at Princeton University, “is we have to make sure that when someone makes that decision, the no-brainer is to invest in transition technology.”