As the rest of the world follows the global trajectory toward an energy transition, moving away from fossil fuels to alternative forms of energy, whether in the interest of creating a decarbonized future or staying afloat in a decarbonized economy that is looming on the horizon, the United States is falling behind. COVID-19 has presented the world with an unprecedented and largely unanticipated disruption to the industrial and economic status quo, and many experts think that these extraordinary circumstances provide an unmissable opportunity to reorient the global economy toward decarbonization and construct what the World Economic Forum has advocated as a “new energy order” and a “great reset.” The World Economic Forum is not alone. International agencies such as the United Nations, the International Energy Agency, and the European Union, are all either currently considering or actively drafting green stimulus plans. Even a surprising number of blue chip companies are pushing for a green energy stimulus, but in the United States these calls have largely fallen upon deaf ears.
It is against this backdrop that Vox published an article this week that claims that “the U.S. has everything it needs to decarbonize by 2035,” and outlines a plan for “How to drive fossil fuels out of the US economy, quickly.” The article advocates for a mobilization as widespread as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, which revived the U.S. economy in the wake of the Great Depression “with a massively expanded workforce (drawing in women and African Americans) and turbocharged productive capacity.” It will take this kind of sweeping, all-or-nothing effort in order for this nation -- one of the biggest greenhouse gas emitters in the world, second only to China -- to decarbonize the economy “fast enough to avert the worst of climate change,” Vox reports. “ To do its part in limiting global temperature rise to between 1.5° and 2° Celsius, the U.S. must reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 at the latest. To achieve this, the full resources of the U.S. economy must be bent toward manufacturing the needed clean-energy technology and infrastructure.”
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As in the case of FDR’s New Deal, a nationwide initiative aimed at decarbonizing the United States would also kickstart the economy and create millions of jobs over the next ten years. PV Tech recently reported that there is “a raft of new studies” which has “come to underscore the business case of pushing renewables to the heart of the COVID-19 recovery, amid claims green energy plays offer a low-cost, high-return opportunity for investors.” And just last week, “physicist, engineer, researcher, inventor, serial entrepreneur, and MacArthur ‘genius’ grant winner” Saul Griffith’s organization Rewiring America “made its big debut with a jobs report showing that rapid decarbonization through electrification would create 15 million to 20 million jobs in the next decade, with 5 million permanent jobs after that.”
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On top of the incredible potential of jobs creation, a green energy revolution modeled by Griffith “has shown that it’s possible to eliminate 70 percent to 80 percent of US carbon emissions by 2035 through rapid deployment of existing electrification technologies, with little-to-no carbon capture and sequestration.” The side effects of this would be that decarbonization and electrification “would slash US energy demand by around half, save consumers money, and keep the country on a 1.5° pathway without requiring particular behavior changes. Everyone could still have their same cars and houses — they would just need to be electric.”
This actually exemplifies why the novel coronavirus pandemic could be the surprise catalyst needed to make this change. While historically a loss of energy demand has been synonymous with a struggling economy, and would therefore be a tough sell, COVID-19 has already sent U.S. energy consumption crashing to its lowest point in 30 years. And the bottom has therefore fallen out of oil demand and prices, leaving Big Oil with considerably less sway than normal.
“Despite the titanic effort it would take to decarbonize, says Vox, “the US doesn’t need any new technologies and it doesn’t require any grand national sacrifice. All it needs, in this view, is a serious commitment to building the necessary machines and creating a regulatory and policy environment that supports their rapid deployment.” The stage has been set. The pandemic has allowed for new ways of thinking and novel solutions as business-as-usual has failed us. Will U.S. politicians listen? We may have to wait until November to find out.
By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com
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