An Electrical Grid Based on Clean Energy: We Can Get There
Until relatively recently, continued calls for dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions seemed more aspirational than likely. While there’s been a growing acceptance of the need to address climate change, the U.S.’ total emissions have remained stubbornly stable. And now, while the world is at a near standstill, feeling the impact of COVID-19, it’s easy to believe that any actions to mitigate climate change will be pushed aside as economies desperately struggle to get back to work.
As we approach Earth Day 2020, however, I believe there is some room for optimism. The electricity generating sector has undergone decades of incremental progress in technology and policy which are now beginning to bear fruit. Today, we’re already employing the systems and strategies necessary to reduce U.S. electricity emissions by more than half within ten years, and there is a robust pipeline of innovation to get us the rest of the way there much sooner than 2050.
This progress isn’t irreversible, however. We can certainly backslide and continue or even increase our levels of emissions until we reach a point where we’ll be forced to employ costly and desperate measures to adapt to a changed climate. It’s therefore important that we understand what works now and how we can collectively continue to accelerate our efforts.
Image source: Morgantown Generating Station, MD; Getty Images
How Can We Get There?
Moderate energy savings combined with continued, rapid roll-out of wind and solar will have the largest impact in reducing U.S. emissions from electricity, particularly if the reductions and new production are used to offset the dirtiest energy sources. Innovation and maturation of newer technologies such as off-shore-wind, carbon capture, and next-generation nuclear will likely also be necessary to get to carbon-free electrical grid. All of these paths will benefit from a renewed interest in the efficiency of our existing building stock and from policy innovations to incentivize change based on market forces. Each of these will be explored in my downloadable report below.
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About the Author
Rob McAtee is Founder and Director of Mason & Hanger’s Energy
and Sustainability Services department, a specialized group
within the company dedicated to increasing facility performance,
improving energy productivity, and promoting sustainability. Rob
holds a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of
Virginia. He is a registered professional engineer, Certified Energy
Manager, and LEED Accredited Professional in Building Design