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Global WarmingLatest Technology Will Determine the Pace of Decarbonization

Latest Technology Will Determine the Pace of Decarbonization

Latest Technology Will Determine the Pace of Decarbonization

On one side, we see President Biden and most major corporations working to speed up the transition to renewable energy. On the opposite side, we see the Heritage Foundation’s Project 2025 and politicos in Texas desperately attempting to revive the fossil fuel industry’s effort to “drill baby drill.” If July’s heat didn’t persuade these folks about global warming, nothing will. It’s true that they now admit the planet is getting warmer, but they don’t think fossil fuels are the cause. In the long run, ideology won’t matter. Scientific facts matter, and most of the people understand the truth of world warming. That’s the reason the number of individuals working to innovate our energy system and move off fossil fuels grows every single day. Price, convenience, and reliability will enable renewables to switch fossil fuels. The technology we’d like to finish the transition to renewable energy just isn’t yet here and remains to be being developed. However the pace of technological innovation is accelerating. Politics and beliefs will take a back seat to economic and technological reality.

It doesn’t take a genius to grasp the benefits of renewable energy over fossil fuels. Fossil fuels should be extracted from the planet: that costs money and damages the environment. Then they have to be transported to a spot they might be burned: that costs money and damages the environment. Then they have to be burned to generate electricity or heat: that costs money and damages the environment. There are many fossil fuels left beneath the planet, but every day we use them they turn out to be scarcer because they’re ancient in origin and finite. Meaning scarcity, which may lead to cost increases (unless demand drops), and we’re already accustomed to the instability and widespread manipulation of fossil fuel pricing. In contrast, the fundamental fuel powering solar energy (or its products—wind and waves) is free, and the sun will outlast our species. The technology to show solar energy into electricity or heat is getting more efficient and inexpensive, and the technology to store this intermittent source of energy can also be getting more efficient, less toxic, and inexpensive. Fossil fuel prices fluctuate while renewable energy prices are predictable and never subject to national blackmail. The present century-old electric grid is centralized and vulnerable. A contemporary energy system can be decentralized, computer-controlled, cost-effective, more efficient, and more reliable.

The federal government’s effort to push decarbonization is useful, as are its expenditures on scientific and technological research and development. Technologies corresponding to the web, GPS, and smartphones were built with government R & D, but once commercialized, resulted in market demand that drove continued innovation. Although the pace of innovation is unpredictable, it is usually faster than projected. Just as Malthus misunderstood the role of technology in agriculture, a lot of the trend lines on increased greenhouse gas production underestimate the potential role of innovation. Renewable energy’s cost-competitiveness with fossil fuels continues to grow. The advocates of increased fossil fuel use are promoting a technology and business model whose time has passed. The climate policy advocates who’re depressed about our failure to make rapid progress might well take a more in-depth have a look at the progress already made.

Technological transitions will not be smooth and are sometimes interrupted by unpredictable events just like the brutal invasion of Ukraine or an American President who’s divorced from factual reality. Nevertheless, an examination of the event of renewable energy technology indicates that renewables are already inexpensive than fossil fuels and costs are rapidly being reduced. In an interesting piece within the electronic journal Joule, Matthew C. Ives, Penny Mealy, and J.Doyne Farmer of Oxford’s Martin School studied the competition between fossil fuels and renewables and observed that:

“The long-term trends provide a clue as to how this competition could also be resolved: The costs of fossil fuels corresponding to coal, oil, and gas are volatile, but after adjusting for inflation, prices now are very much like what they were 140 years ago, and there is no such thing as a obvious long-range trend. In contrast, for several a long time the prices of solar photovoltaics (PV), wind, and batteries have dropped (roughly) exponentially at a rate near 10% per yr. The fee of solar PV has decreased by greater than three orders of magnitude since its first industrial use in 1958.”

Their scholarship utilizes historic data on the diffusion of technology to develop scenarios of future energy costs. They conclude that:

“Rapidly decarbonizing the worldwide energy system is critical for addressing climate change, but concerns about costs have been a barrier to implementation. Most energy-economy models have historically underestimated deployment rates for renewable energy technologies and overestimated their costs. These issues have driven calls for alternative approaches and more reliable technology forecasting methods. Here, we use an approach based on probabilistic cost forecasting methods which have been statistically validated by backtesting on greater than 50 technologies. We generate probabilistic cost forecasts for solar energy, wind energy, batteries, and electrolyzers, conditional on deployment. We use these methods to estimate future energy system costs and explore how technology cost uncertainty propagates through to system costs in three different scenarios. In comparison with continuing with a fossil fuel-based system, a rapid green energy transition will likely end in overall net savings of many trillions of dollars—even without accounting for climate damages or co-benefits of climate policy.”

While predicting future technological development is difficult, and projections are removed from certain, what’s striking is the steadiness of fossil fuel costs and the indisputable fact that technological development in that arena is concentrated on improving our ability to extract fuel from increasingly difficult locations. In contrast, technological development in renewable energy is concentrated on taking a cost-free source of energy and making it cheaper to soak up, convert to electricity, and store. Because of cost reductions and government subsidies, an increasing percentage of recent facilities for generating energy are renewable. In accordance with Susan Tierney and Lori Bird of the World Resources Institute:

“Solar and wind farms have dominated latest power plant builds within the U.S. in recent times, while fossil fuel plants—particularly coal-fired plants—proceed to be retired at record pace. In 2019, wind (9.1GW) and solar (5.3GW) represented 62% of all latest generating capability, in comparison with 8.3GW of natural gas, while 14GW of coal-fired capability was retired. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) has also projected that most latest electric generation added within the U.S. in 2020 could come from wind and solar, with latest natural gas plants projected to represent lower than 1 / 4 of recent generating capability.”

While COVID disrupted these trends, they’ve resumed, and renewables are a growing portion of the U.S. energy mix. Despite the push by ideologues and the fossil fuel industry to denigrate renewable energy, the trend lines are obvious, and the long run is obvious. What’s less clear is the pace of change. There are a wide range of things that can influence the speed of change in our energy system. Technological breakthroughs, while inevitable, are unpredictable. The supply of capital can also be a variable, as is the supply and effectiveness of presidency subsidies. The organizational capability to deliver renewable energy can also be removed from assured. For some businesses, the transition to renewable energy is a no brainer. An enormous box chain, like Walmart, has huge stores with flat roofs and high energy consumption. For Walmart, solar energy is an investment that rapidly pays for itself in reduced electricity costs. Walmart has loads of capital, and the return on investment for renewables compares favorably to other uses of capital. For some organizations, the return on investment of scarce capital is less favorable. In those cases, latest technology could also be required to stimulate adoption.

One other obstacle to decarbonization is delegitimizing the transition by adhering to unrealistic targets. Targets might be useful symbols but might be destructive in the event that they are set too high to succeed in or too low to do any good. The transition must be achieved in stages and should be based on rigorous assessments of current levels of performance, and once that is known, the main focus ought to be on efforts to enhance performance. Operational reality moderately than symbolic talking points should guide this transition. Within the short run, we proceed to wish and use fossil fuels. But every year we are going to likely use less fossil fuels and more renewables. This ought to be accompanied by microgrids that may higher distribute energy and reduce blackouts. A contemporary, more efficient energy system powered by lower-cost fuel might be more reliable, inexpensive, and can have the wonderful side effect of reducing pollution from fossil fuels —including greenhouse gasses.


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