The United States—per head of population perhaps the world’s most prodigal emitter of greenhouse gases—can reverse that and have a carbon-free future within three decades, at a cost of no more than $1 per person per day, according to a new study in the journal AGU Advances.
That would mean renewable energy to power all 50 states: giant wind power farms, solar power stations, electric cars, heat pumps, and a range of other technological solutions, Climate News Network reports.
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The argument has been made before: made repeatedly; and contested, too. But this time the reasoning comes not from individual scientists in a handful of U.S. universities, but from an American government research base: the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, with help from the University of San Francisco.
To make the switch more politically feasible, the authors argue, existing power plants could be allowed to live out their economic life, and nobody need be asked to scrap a brand new gasoline-driven car for an electric vehicle.
The study looked at a range of ways to get to net-zero carbon emissions, at costs as low as 0.2% of gross domestic product (GDP, the economist’s favourite measure of national wealth), or as high as 1.2%, with about 90% of the power generated by wind or solar energy.
“The decarbonization of the U.S. energy system is fundamentally an infrastructure transformation,” said study co-author Margaret Torn, of Lawrence Berkeley.
“It means that by 2050 we need to build many gigawatts of wind and solar plants, new transmission lines, a fleet of electric cars and light trucks, millions of heat pumps to replace conventional furnaces and water heaters, and more energy-efficient buildings, while continuing to research and innovate new technologies.”
The economic costs would be almost exclusively capital investments necessitated by the new infrastructure. That is both bad and good.
“All that infrastructure build equates to jobs, and potentially jobs in the U.S., as opposed to spending money overseas to buy oil from other countries,” Torn told Climate News Net. “There’s no question that there will need to be a well thought-out economic transition strategy for fossil fuel-based industries and communities, but there’s also no question that there are a lot of jobs in building a low-carbon economy.”
The study suggests the U.S. could even become a source of what the scientists call “net-negative” emissions by mid-century, taking more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere than is added.
This would mean systematic carbon capture, investment in biofuels, and a lot more electric power, which in turn would mean inland and interstate transmission lines. But, the authors argue, this would be affordable to society just on energy grounds alone. − Climate News Network