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Renewable Projects Show The Way To Move The Planet Toward Zero Emissions

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A zero emissions future is fascinating, isn’t it? It’s a world of change and reinvigoration, a chance to reflect and renew.

Individual technical options, or “pathways,” for decarbonizing specific industries are necessary and starting to take place. Aligning investment and innovation cycles helps to reduce the residual emissions burden from existing assets. As we move away from our heavy reliance on fossil fuels, we’re getting ever-so-closer to tipping points as thresholds that will help transition the economy away from fossil fuels.

The concept of tipping points stems from the natural sciences, in which a critical threshold can push a system over a threshold and spur rapid qualitative alteration. Self-reinforcing feedback loops can be positive, as they can shift high carbon systems to low carbon states.

The World Economic Forum says that decarbonization deployment at scale requires a confluence of elements — “technological, regulatory, economic, and collaborative” — to reach commercial competitiveness. Are we there yet? No, but the tipping point is in sight, and with it comes a pattern in which projects are built, enter production, and create volume effects. Together, these drive further improvements in “cost, supply chain maturity, and economic certainty.” Financiers pay more attention, more projects are built, and so the loop spins on.

In 2023, the US had a record deployment of solar and wind. It’s a start — a good start — but it’s not enough. Humans need to stop burning fossil fuels, and we need models to demonstrate how that can happen. Here are some innovative and forward-thinking projects happening in the world of decarbonization that deserve attention.

Take Formula E. Its racing takes place with all-electric, battery-powered vehicles. Instead of the roar of an internal combustion engine (ICE), there is a whizzing sound as the cars speed by on the track. Fans become trained to monitor cars’ energy levels and battery conservation by managing regenerative braking. Automakers like Porsche, Jaguar, and Nissan use their Formula E teams as an incubator for their EV technology. Formula E car speeds range up to 200 mph (which is still less than a Formula One racer), and its fans have undergone a culture shift. Now noise is anathema, drivers customize energy consumption, and range maximization become markers of expertise. With a nod to the fan experience, Formula E cars pass each other as they attempt to manage their energy usage efficiently, unlike Formula One, in which Red Bull has dominated for the past several years. Want to see what the Formula E battery-powered racing is all about? You can view some of the fun on YouTube.

The resale electric vehicle market is at a tipping point and ready to play a critical role in expanding battery electric vehicle adoption to middle- and lower-income households. Newer battery-electric vehicle models hold higher retention rates that are approaching those of many ICE vehicles. This trend is particularly significant given the rapid advancements in battery technology, notably in driving range. This evolution not only addresses range anxiety but also potentially mitigates resale anxiety and is a harbinger of overall higher rates of battery-electric vehicle adoption upcoming in the next decade.

In March, the Biden-Harris Administration released the National Zero-Emission Freight Corridor Strategy. The Strategy will guide the deployment of zero emission medium- and heavy-duty vehicle charging and hydrogen fueling infrastructure from 2024 to 2040. The Strategy is designed to meet growing market demands by targeting public investment to amplify private sector momentum, focus utility and regulatory energy planning, align industry activity, and improve air quality in local communities heavily impacted by diesel emissions.

Here’s another example of zero emissions modeling: the DOE new Commercial Building Heat Pump Accelerator program, which is a public-private partnership bringing together manufacturers, commercial building owners, and the DOE national labs. As Canary Media reports, the program aims to hasten the development of more cost-effective and efficient cold-climate heat pumps that sit on flat commercial roofs, a type of packaged rooftop unit. Many lessons have been learned due to heat pump installation experience. Large systematic differences in installed capacity and costs across contractors lessens when contractors accumulate more experience. So, too, does addressing oversized installations. In fact, an increase of 1% of the number of installations by a contractor is associated with a 0.03% reduction in installed capacity of heat pumps. Progress!

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The Sherco solar and energy-storage facility will be the largest solar project in the Upper Midwest, and the fifth-largest in the US by the time it’s fully completed in 2026. As if those accolades are not enough, as Canary Media outlines, the facility will partially replace the nearby coal plant set to retire over the coming years, address the variability of solar power by pairing it with long-duration storage, and provide good-paying union jobs in a community that’s losing a key employer in the coal facility. The enormous solar installation will cover about 4,500 acres across 3 sites. It also will be one of the first large-scale projects to use a long-duration iron-air battery from Form Energy.

Buildings produce 39% of CO2 emissions globally, and clients, investors, and regulatory bodies are now demanding construction firms rethink their approach to sustainability. In April the Biden-Harris Administration releasedDecarbonizing the US Economy by 2050: A National Blueprint for the Buildings Sector.” It’s described as a comprehensive plan to reduce greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions from buildings by 65% by 2035 and 90% by 2050. At COP28, UNEP and the signatory governments extended an open invitation to nations worldwide to join the Buildings Breakthrough and unite in this global effort towards near-zero emission and resilient buildings by 2030.

Final Thoughts about Zero Emissions & Tipping Points

Beginning in the 1970s, the global warming rate was 0.18 degree Celsius per decade, but it has jumped to about 0.3 degree Celsius per decade over the past 15 years. We now see weather extremes each year, with all-time high air and water temperatures continually setting records.

Michael Mann of the University of Pennsylvania cautions, “Think of it as a tide on top of a rising sea. The rising sea — the steady warming — is what we should be concerned about, and that will continue until net emissions reach zero.” Clearly, a zero emissions world is necessary for environmental and human health.

I’ll end this with a quote from Bill Gates that is pertinent to our discussion of the quest to achieve zero emissions.

“We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction.”

We can be prudent and optimistic at the same time about the human capacity to reach zero emissions and undo the damage we have done through burning fossil fuels.

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Substack:

Carolyn Fortuna has 1310 posts and counting. See all posts by Carolyn Fortuna