Is it possible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 80% below 1990 emissions levels by 2050? Maybe, according to a study done in (of course) California. The study was jointly conducted by consulting firm Energy and Environmental Economics, Inc. (E3) and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and focused on using current technology to meet the emissions goals.
The study implies that electricity is the way out of excessive greenhouse gas emissions – specifically, moving away from oil and toward carbon-free electricity generation. Snuller Price, co-author of the study and a partner at E3, explains that “…this study means that our electric utilities will be the central players in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the long term.”
Green Sources for Reduced Emissions
Dr. Jim Williams, lead author of the study and chief scientist at E3, feels that the only way to achieve reduced emissions is with clean electricity:
“Absent dramatic changes in people’s behavior, or an unforeseen breakthrough in new technology, we found that there is only one way to meet the GHG goal” of 80% below 1990 emissions levels by 2050. Meeting the goal requires unprecedented levels of energy efficiency, completely decarbonizing electric generation, and switching almost all fossil fuel use to electricity.”
Of course, transportation in the United States is currently heavily dependent on oil and fossil fuel, and responsible for a significant percentage of greenhouse gas emissions. The study takes that into account, calculating how grid infrastructure would need to be changed as well as energy use, CO2 emissions, and cost. Smart EV charging and better vehicle batteries are also necessary for meeting the emissions target, according to Dr. Williams:
“We built a physical representation of infrastructure and the electric grid to get a more realistic picture of emissions reductions. For example, if we have millions of electric cars in California, the timing of when their batteries charge is linked to what kinds of power plants we need on the grid, and other infrastructure we need to maintain reliability.”
We Can Do It! (Probably, But Not Cheaply)
The study authors estimate that the annual cost of reducing emissions to the stated goal (whose goal? No idea) would be approximately $1,200 USD per person compared to a “business as usual” case. (Keep in mind that fluctuating oil prices do affect the “business as usual case” and make it difficult to predict the base line here.)
The clearest message coming out of the study is don’t procrastinate. According to Price: “This study isn’t only about what the world needs to look like in 2050, it’s about the pathway and what we need to do now. We have to improve key technologies this decade before we need them to be widely commercialized in 2020 and beyond.”
To put it as simply as possible, the only way to stop dirty emissions is to start using clean energy and then keep using it. It seems clear and obvious on the surface, but is it worth the potential cost? You tell me, in the comments below.