Carbon-free future is in reach for the US by 2050

Tulips and turbines . . . and the US will need many gigawatts’ worth of them if it’s to turn carbon-neutral. Image: By  Martijn Baudoin on Unsplash

America could have a carbon-free future by 2050 with a big switch to wind and solar power, say US government scientists.

LONDON, 11 February, 2021 − The US − 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.

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.

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 US 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 plant could be allowed to live out its economic life; nobody need be asked to scrap a brand new gasoline-driven car for an electric vehicle.

“All that infrastructure build equates to jobs, and potentially jobs in the US, as opposed to spending money overseas to buy oil from other countries”

Their study − in the journal AGU Advances − 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 power generated by wind or solar energy.

“The decarbonisation of the US energy system is fundamentally an infrastructure transformation,” said Margaret Torn, of the Berkeley Lab, one of the authors.

“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 costs necessitated by the new infrastructure. That is both bad and good.

Jobs aplenty

“All that infrastructure build equates to jobs, and potentially jobs in the US, as opposed to spending money overseas to buy oil from other countries.

“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 also suggests the US 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 cost inland and interstate transmission lines. But, the authors argue, this would be affordable to society just on energy grounds alone. − Climate News Network