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  • Writer's pictureCorinne E. Atton

Innovation is Key to Deep Decarbonization Say U.S. National Academies

Less than a month into the Biden-Harris Administration, the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine have published a technical blueprint and manual identifying critical policies the United States must implement in the next 10 years to reach net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050.

Key messages are that energy transformation is central to mitigating climate change; and that deep decarbonization is technically feasible, but this requires significant investment in innovation.

U.S. gross greenhouse gas emissions, by sector, in 2018, are reported as:

The Report acknowledges that the U.S. energy system must transform from one dominated by fossil fuel combustion, and emphasizes strategies that:

· Are “no-regrets,” in the sense that they are needed regardless of the final path taken—for example, critical foundations needed to facilitate other actions; and

· Retain “optionality” and flexibility—to allow the U.S. to benefit from technological advances, mitigate risks that may derail primary strategies, and to weather uncertainties, such as differences in regional energy resources, and support for climate policy.

The Report identifies five technological goals, alongside key socioeconomic goals:

1. Invest in Energy Efficiency and Productivity—priority actions over the next 10 years include buildings, transportation, industry, and embodied energy in products and building materials. Specifically, total energy use by new buildings must be reduced by 50%.

2. Electrify Energy Services in Transportation, Buildings, and Industry—electrification of energy services, together with decarbonization of electricity generation is identified as a core element in nearly all deep decarbonization scenarios. A specific recommendation is that 50% of new vehicle sales should be zero-emission vehicles.

3. Produce Carbon-Free Electricity—the share of electricity from zero-carbon emitting sources—including nuclear power, hydropower, wind, solar, biomass, and geothermal—has increased significantly over the last 15 years, driven by an increased use of wind and solar, incentivized by policy and cost reduction. The aim is to double the share of clean electricity generation to 75% over 10 years.

4. Plan, Permit, and Build Critical Infrastructure, and Repurpose Existing Energy Infrastructure—the U.S. should increase electrical transmission capacity by 40% to distribute high-quality, low-cost wind and solar power from where it is generated, to where it is needed across the country. Goals must also be to upgrade distribution grids; accelerate the build-out of electric vehicle recharging networks; facilitate the use of renewable fuel transport and storage; and to initiate a national CO2 capture, transport, and disposal network.

5. Expand the Innovation Toolkit—innovation is identified as crucially important, in particular, investment in clean energy research, development, and demonstration (RD&D), and creating initial markets for nascent net-zero technologies using incentives and standards. Innovations identified as fundamentally enhancing the net-zero transition include low-cost zero-carbon fuels, including hydrogen from the electrolysis of water or biomass gasification; and lower-cost carbon capture, and direct air capture technologies. Areas earmarked for significant progress include net-zero options for aviation, marine transport, and the production of steel, cement, and bulk chemicals.

Recommendations to Congress include:

· An economy-wide carbon price starting at $40 per ton of carbon dioxide (tCO2), rising 5% annually.

· Triple federal investment in clean energy RD&D.

· Targeted standards and incentives addressing specific sectors, such as a clean energy standard for electricity, and zero-emissions vehicle and building standards.

· Direct the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to require public companies to disclose their climate risks in their annual SEC filings.



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