The American Geophysical Union (AGU) has published a report claiming to have created multiple pathways to help the United States meet net-zero and net negative CO2 emissions by 2050.
AGU has modeled the entire U.S. energy and industrial system with new analysis tools that capture synergies that have not been represented in sector-specific or integrated assessment models.
By methodically increasing energy efficiency, switching to electric technologies, utilizing clean electricity (especially wind and solar power), and deploying a small amount of carbon capture technology, the United States can reach zero emissions without requiring behavior changes.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) ‘Special report on global warming of 1.5°C’ points to the need for carbon neutrality by mid‐century, and achieving it in 30 years in the U.S. will be a challenge. Practical pathways detailing the technologies, infrastructure, costs, and tradeoffs involved are needed.
AGU created eight scenarios that would meet all U.S. energy needs at a net cost of 0.2–1.2% of GDP in 2050, using only commercial or near‐commercial technologies, while requiring no early retirement of existing infrastructure. Cost models with more detail than used in the past revealed unexpected synergies, counterintuitive results, and tradeoffs.
These pathways with constraints on consumer behavior, land use, biomass use, and technology choices (e.g., no nuclear) met the target but at a higher cost.
The pathways picked by AGU have employed four basic strategies: energy efficiency, decarbonized electricity, electrification, and carbon capture. Least‐cost pathways were based on over 80% wind and solar electricity plus thermal generation for reliability.
However, a 100% renewable primary energy system was feasible but had a higher cost and land use. Eliminating fossil fuel use is possible but comes at a higher cost. Restricting biomass use and land for renewables is possible but could require nuclear power to compensate.
AGU claims to have discovered multiple feasible options to supply low‐carbon fuels for non‐electrifiable end uses in industry, freight, and aviation, which were not required in bulk until after 2035.
Actions required in all pathways are similar in the next decade: expand renewable capacity 3.5 fold, retire coal, maintain existing gas generating capacity, and increase electric vehicle and heat pump sales to over 50% of market share.
In October 2020, the world’s third-largest economy, Japan, announced its plan to become carbon-neutral by 2050. In his first policy speech in the parliament, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said, “Responding to climate change is no longer a constraint on economic growth. It is necessary to change the way of thinking that proactive measures against climate change will bring about changes in the industrial structure and economic society, leading to great growth.”
The world’s largest and growing energy market, China, also announced in September 2020 that it aimed to transform into a carbon-neutral economy by 2060. However, for a country that contributes 28% of global emissions, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s claim lacked announcement of a definite roadmap and immediate concrete steps towards the goal, analysts opined.
Rahul is a staff reporter at Mercom India. Before entering the world of renewables, Rahul was head of the Gujarat bureau for The Quint. He has also worked for DNA Ahmedabad and Ahmedabad Mirror. Hailing from a banking and finance background, Rahul has also worked for JP Morgan Chase and State Bank of India. More articles from Rahul Nair.