How Realistic is “Net Zero Emissions?”

In my last blog post we discussed about the Biden Administration’s pledge to reduce emissions and pave the way towards a net zero carbon future. I am hopeful that we overshoot these pledges as technology continues to advance in the coming decades. However, what if it doesn’t? Or what if technological progress reduces in speed and we are left to do more carbon reducing with today’s technology. Well fortunately, we have a lot of excellent technology already and we can get pretty far along the road already, and with the appropriate funding from the Biden Administration I am very hopeful that the technology we already have will be utilized to its utmost potential.

Primarily, lets focus on a new law that the administration is proposing on passing through the budget reconciliation process. It is rumored that there will be a clause making it a legal mandate for the United States’ energy grid to be 80% emission free by the year 2030. This would be insufficient to meet the goal of a net zero carbon grid by 2030, but again it is an achievable goal. As of writing this, the United States’ grid is 40% emission free. In previous blogs I discussed that we source 11% of our energy needs from renewable energy, so the terms “emission free energy” and “renewable energy” are not the same. For example, nuclear energy is an emission free energy source that is not renewable. The term “zero emission encompasses” renewable energies. Also going to an emission-free energy grid versus a renewable grid leaves room for the burning of fossil fuels or natural gasses with the appropriate carbon capture procedures in place.

Photo Credit: Vectorjuice on Freepik

Its also reassuring that utility leaders have recently sent a letter to President Biden urging him to pass a Clean Energy Standard (CES). That is not without hesitation from other industry giants that have also expressed concerns for the eventuality of not being able to meet these stringent guidelines. Our level of technological advancement is impressive, but it is still not enough to meet the goals set forward by the Biden Administration. Utility companies are worrying about the possible financial and regulatory fallout should they fail to meet the guidelines set before them. There are provisions in the CES to provide utility companies with some wiggle room; being able to bank reduced emissions in one term and carry them over to subsequent terms. I believe that this is a good incentive to push a drive down in emissions as soon as possible. Emission reduction is much easier in the early stages and becomes more difficult the closer we get to emission-free, so it is a wise decision to allow companies to create reserves in emission reductions to then buy themselves more time to reach the final goal. Levelized over the time period this should net the same amount of emissions past 2035 (the deadline for zero net carbon).

How would you like to see the issue of reaching zero net carbon be approached? Should we focus on a mandate and government funded research or should we allow pressures from the market drive utilities to innovate?

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