With climate change continuing to affect the planet, a study published Jan. 14 revealed that the path to zero — and potentially negative — carbon dioxide emissions in the United States is affordable and could be reached by 2050.
Conducted by researchers from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, or Berkeley Lab, the University of San Francisco and a consulting firm, the study examined eight different plans to reduce carbon emissions and identified strategies with the lowest costs. According to the study, carbon neutrality by 2050 could cost $1 per person a day.
“The decarbonization of the U.S. energy system is fundamentally an infrastructure transformation,” said Margaret Torn, Berkeley Lab senior scientist and study co-author, in a Berkeley Lab press release.
According to Torn, net-zero emissions will require more wind and solar power plants, electric vehicles, heat pumps and energy-efficient infrastructure, among other recommendations.
Strategies for carbon neutrality or net-negative emissions by 2050 rely on increasing energy efficiency, reducing the intensity of carbon emissions, using electricity as an alternative to other forms of energy and utilizing carbon capture, according to the study. The most cost-effective decarbonization plans generated more than 80% of energy through wind, solar and thermal power.
Daniel Sanchez, assistant specialist at UC Berkeley’s department of environmental science, policy and management, said the study took a “renewables-first approach” to reducing carbon emissions, particularly because of the low cost of renewable energy. Sanchez added that this is one of the first studies to examine the path to carbon neutrality at a national scale rather than only at the state level.
“(The paper) provides a blueprint to the next administration,” Sanchez said. “It talks about what we can start doing right now, what we need to start doing 10 years from now and what role the federal government can play to push those things forward.”
Sanchez noted that an important aspect of the study’s decarbonization plan is carbon capture, which can both reduce emissions from power plants and capture carbon dioxide from the air to store underground.
Regardless of what strategy is used to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, the actions required in the next 10 years are very similar, according to the press release. The press release added that renewable energy use must increase, new infrastructure should minimize carbon emissions and natural gas use should remain constant.
“This is a very important finding,” said Jim Williams, Berkeley Lab affiliate scientist and study co-author, in the press release. “We should make policy to drive the steps that we know are required now, while accelerating R&D and further developing our options for the choices we must make starting in the 2030s.”