How to Get to Carbon Zero: It May Be a Lot More Affordable, Easier to Achieve Than We Expect

Buzz Staff
·3-min read

Even as the Earth slowly plummets towards an irreversible climate catastrophe, there may still be hope.

Reaching zero net emissions of carbon dioxide from energy and industry by 2050 is possible, finds a new study. The cost for it may also be a lot more affordable than we think.

Bew research published by the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), the University of San Francisco (USF), and the consulting firm Evolved Energy Research, finds that reaching a carbon zero from energy and industry by 2050 can be accomplished by rebuilding U.S. energy infrastructure to run primarily on renewable energy, at a net cost of about $1 per person, per day.

The researchers created a detailed model of the entire U.S. energy and industrial system to produce the first detailed, peer-reviewed study of how to achieve carbon-neutrality by 2050. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world must reach zero net CO2 emissions by mid-century in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and avoid the most dangerous impacts of climate change.

The researchers developed multiple feasible technology pathways that differ widely in remaining fossil fuel use, land use, consumer adoption, nuclear energy, and bio-based fuels use but share a key set of strategies. “By methodically increasing energy efficiency, switching to electric technologies, utilizing clean electricity (especially wind and solar power), and deploying a small amount of carbon capture technology, the United States can reach zero emissions,” the authors write in “Carbon Neutral Pathways for the United States,” published in the scientific journal AGU Advances.

An important finding of this study is that the actions required in the next 10 years are similar regardless of long-term differences between pathways. In the near term, we need to increase the generation and transmission of renewable energy, make sure all new infrastructure, such as cars and buildings, are low carbon and maintain current natural gas capacity for now for reliability.

While the study focused on the US alone, the same principles although a different roadmap, maybe allied to other countries, like India. India's strategy, however, may have to rely on something Elon Musk wants to sponsor: Carbon Capture.

A recent contributor post to The Financial Express by Somit Dasgupta and Diya Dasgupta of the ICRIER, states that "The government should identify centrally-owned generating stations that still have sufficient life and set up CCS units in these plants. Other emitting sectors, such as industrial, transport and agricultural, are dominated by private enterprise that, of course, don’t have the means to invest in this technology. Initial government investment may trigger a fall in capital costs, which may lead to further adoption of the technology. Finally, it would not be out of place to mention that the best way to promote this technology would be to make it a part-and-parcel of the INDCs, which would have guaranteed quick percolation at a reduced cost due to economies of scale."

Carbon capture has actually been in use for years, even if it hasn't been for the environment. The oil and gas industries have used carbon capture for decades as a way to enhance oil and gas recovery. Only recently, has thinking about capturing carbon for environmental reasons begun.

Currently, most research focuses on carbon capture at fossil fuel-powered energy plants, the source of the majority of man-made CO2 emissions. Many of these power plants rely on coal to create energy, and the burning of coal emits CO2 into the atmosphere. So to effectively attempt carbon capture, the aim should be at industries and power plants to actively reduce it.

Trees, on the other hand are a great solution but it may not be enough. In June last year, two studies published in the journal Nature Sustainability found that large-scale tree planting is not a simple solution to climate change. One of the two researchers said that new forests may not offer the desired financial incentives and reduce biodiversity. It will also have little impact on carbon emissions.