The United States has set an ambitious goal of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by at least 50% by 2030. Are we on the right path to success?
A new study by a team of scientists and policy analysts from across the country suggests there are multiple paths to achieving this goal – but big commitments will need to be made, immediately.
“This study should reassure policy makers and other energy players, by showing that everyone in the field is heading in the same direction. The case for clean energy is stronger than ever and our study shows that the 2030 emissions target can be met,” said Nikit Abhyankar, one of the study’s authors and a scientist within from the Electricity Markets and Policy Department of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Laboratoire). He notes that the most urgent actions will be to double the amount of renewable capacity built each year and shift mostly to electric vehicles over the next decade.
“With the right policies and infrastructure, we can reduce our emissions, while saving American consumers billions of dollars and generating new jobs,” he said.
Reducing GHG emissions by 50% by 2030 would put the United States on track to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, according to target scientists, needed to avoid the worst consequences of the climate crisis.
The study, published in Science, consolidates the results of six recently published techno-economic models that simulate in detail the operations of the US energy system. According to the authors, the separate models all agree on four major points:
- The majority of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions come from electricity generation and transportation, so to reduce overall emissions by 50%, the power grid must run on 80% clean energy (compared to 40% today). today), and the majority of vehicles sold by 2030 must be electric. Other important sources of GHG emission reductions include the electrification of buildings and industries.
- The main obstacle to increasing the use of alternative energies will not be the cost, but the adoption of new policies. A coordinated policy response between the states and the federal government will be needed to succeed.
- Thanks to advances in wind, solar and energy storage technologies, powering the electricity grid with renewable energy will not cost more; and electric vehicles could save each household up to $1,000 per year in net benefits.
- A transition to clean energy would reduce air pollution, prevent up to 200,000 premature deaths, and avoid up to $800 billion in environmental and health costs through 2050. Many health benefits will occur in communities of color and frontline communities who are disproportionately exposed to vehicle, power plant and industrial pollution.
“Our study provides the first detailed roadmap for how the United States can achieve its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030,” said lead author John Bistline, Program Manager in the Energy Systems and Climate Analysis Group at the Electric Power Research Institute. . “This will require tripling the rate of historic carbon reductions, an ambitious but achievable goal if stakeholders work together across sectors. By comparing results from six independent models, we provide greater confidence in the policies and technology deployment needed to meet near-term climate goals, laying the foundation for an affordable, reliable, and equitable net-zero future.
According to Abhyankar, who led the development of one of the six models, “by 2030, wind, solar, coupled with energy storage can provide the bulk of the 80% clean electricity. The results also show that generating the remaining 20% of grid electricity will not require the creation of new fossil fuel generators.” He noted that existing gas-fired power plants, used infrequently and combined with energy storage, hydropower and nuclear power, are sufficient to meet demand during periods of extraordinarily low renewable energy generation or exceptionally high electricity demand.” And if the right policies are in place, coal-fired and gas generators that currently supply the majority of the country’s electricity would recoup their initial investment, thereby avoiding the risk of under-recovery of costs for investors.”
“Since announcing the national emissions reduction pledge at the 2021 United Nations climate conference, the United States has taken steps in the right direction,” Abhyankar said. “But there’s still a lot to do. What we hope is that this study will provide some level of a blueprint for how this might be done.
The other models used for this study were developed by the Electric Power Research Institute, the Environmental Defense Fund, the National Resources Defense Council and the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change.
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Founded in 1931 on the belief that the greatest scientific challenges are best met by teams, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and its scientists have been awarded 14 Nobel Prizes. Today, Berkeley Lab researchers are developing sustainable energy and environmental solutions, creating useful new materials, pushing the boundaries of computing, and probing the mysteries of life, matter, and the universe. Scientists around the world rely on the facilities of the laboratory for their own scientific discovery. Berkeley Lab is a multi-program national laboratory, operated by the University of California for the US Department of Energy’s Office of Science.
The DOE’s Office of Science is the largest supporter of basic physical science research in the United States and works to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit energy.gov/science.