‘Cheaper to save the climate’: UC Berkeley study finds clean energy transition possible by 2035

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A new report from UC Berkeley’s Center for Environmental Public Policy shows that the United States can achieve 90% clean electricity by 2035.

Titled “2035: The Report,” the study found that by prioritizing energy generated from wind, solar and battery storage, decarbonizing electricity at a rapid rate is possible. It also pushes for a move away from the United States’ current dependency on fossil power plants, coal and gas.

The study cites the October 2018 United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its introduction, noting that the panel reported that global carbon emissions need to be halved by 2030 to limit climate change effects. The study also notes that other research examines 2050 as a viable year to achieve decarbonization of power systems, which “offers little hope” that climate change impacts could be reasonably managed.

Lara Kueppers, a campus associate professor in the Energy and Resources Group, emphasized the importance of prompt attention to reducing harmful emissions.

“Accelerating the decarbonization of our energy system is critical to avoiding the worst effects of a changing climate in the US, and globally,” Kueppers said in an email. “This will also pay huge environmental and human health dividends by reducing air and water pollution associated with coal and gas.”

Umed Paliwal, a campus researcher who worked on the study, revealed that it aimed to demonstrate the feasibility of implementing immediate measures and achieving decarbonization as quickly as possible.

Paliwal added that while many studies “target” the year 2050 for clean energy, recent cost decreases could allow that year to shift to 2035.

“What we are asserting is that the cost of solar wind and batteries have come down so much in the last five to 10 years that we can economically decarbonize our system up to 9% by 2035,” Paliwal said. “So now we want to shift the conversation that we can do this by 2035 rather than 2050.”

Paliwal noted that the study is now focusing on its implementation in legal policy.

Energy Innovation, a nonpartisan policy firm, released supplemental policy recommendations for policymakers and elected officials at the same time the study was released, according to Energy Innovation spokesperson Silvio Marcacci. The company hopes the recommendations can serve as a “roadmap” for potential lawmakers who want to assist with the study’s goals, according to Marcacci.

“The 2035 Report makes clear for the first time that it’s now cheaper to save the climate than to destroy it,” Marcacci said in an email. “America’s current electricity sector policies are not on track to deliver this clean future.”

Paliwal said the move toward carbon-free electricity as outlined in the study would not impact consumers’ electricity bills.

Instead, it foresees the possibility of an economic surge for U.S. citizens, according to Paliwal.

“We would be injecting around $1.7 trillion into the economy,” Paliwal predicts. “This becomes increasingly attractive, that we follow the study, so that we can put like half a million people back to work.”

Contact Kelly Nguyen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @KellyNguyen_DC