A Green Grid by 2035? New Report Says We’re Halfway There

For those skeptical of President Joe Biden’s goal of achieveing a zero-carbon electricity grid by 2035, Ryan Wiser has a word of optimism: We’re already halfway there.

Wiser, a senior scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, looked at greenhouse-gas emissions from the electricity sector last year and compared them with projections from 15 years earlier. Emissions were 52% lower in 2020 than the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicted they would be back in 2005, Wiser wrote in a new report.

“There’s often this concern that energy transitions take a century, or at least decades,” he said. “The fact that we’ve marched halfway there is an impressive story.

The analysis comes as world leaders prepare to gather this month for Biden’s climate summit. Ahead of the meeting, the White House is expected to unveil a new climate pledge that’s double the target set by President Barack Obama. Biden has already said he wants to rid the electricity system of emissions within 15 years, and achieve a fully carbon-zero economy by 2050 -- some of the most aggressive climate goals in the world.

Reaching them won’t be simple. While power-sector emissions fell 40% from 2005 to 2020, much of that drop was driven by cheap natural gas dethroning coal as the dominant fuel for U.S. power plants. But gas isn’t carbon free and further emissions cuts will require greater adoption of clean technologies such as energy storage.

Finally, the coronavirus pandemic played a role in reducing emissions last year. Power-sector emissions in 2019, before the virus spread worldwide, were 46% below the EIA’s projections and 33% below 2005 levels.

Fortunately, massive growth in renewable power is already playing a major role in cutting emissions, with solar and wind becoming a significant part of the country’s energy mix for the first time over the past decade. And while the EIA expected electricity demand to rise between 2005 and 2015, it stayed largely flat, as LED lights and other energy-efficient technologies became commonplace.

“Is it going to be easy, the next 50%? By no means,” Wiser said. “But I also think it’s a little bit unfair to think we’ve picked all the low-hanging fruit.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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