Summer is ending, but the heat is still on to reduce emissions and maintain reliability. Luckily, renewables did the heavy lifting, keeping the lights on and the rates reasonable in the hottest places.
U.S. regulators are committed to cutting carbon dioxide levels by 40 percent by 2030, using a 2005 baseline — and carbon neutrality by 2050. The good news is wind and solar prices are falling drastically, leading to an onslaught of clean generation coming to market.
“Renewables have kept prices low during a really hot summer,” said Rudy Garza, chief executive of San Antonio-based CPS Energy, the largest municipally owned electric and natural gas utility, at an event hosted by the United States Energy Association. “This transition is going to happen whether you like it or not.”
The bigger question is at what pace the evolution takes place. The “mentality of the past” — Garza’s words referring to a reluctance to shed old business ways — is challenging. That’s compounded further because the century-old energy infrastructure favors oil, gas and coal production.
The Paris Agreement aims to limit temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius to mitigate droughts, floods, and food and water shortages. Scientists say we are nearing the 1.2 degrees mark and on track to hit 2.7 degrees. Before Paris, the trend was 4 degrees Celsius.
The International Renewable Energy Agency said we need to triple our deployment of renewables — from the existing installed base of 260 gigawatts to more than 800 gigawatts by 2030. That will require $5.7 trillion, returning 85 million additional jobs by 2030.
Can we get there? As renewables become commonplace, they will gain wider acceptance, necessitating the infrastructure to carry them. That includes more long-distance, high-powered transmission lines. It also requires the development of long-duration battery storage — devices that can harness wind and solar power electrons and release them when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun isn’t shining.
That takes time, implying it has to be an orderly transition.
In the meantime, climate negotiators are pressing governments to cut their carbon emissions and strive for carbon neutrality. About 192 nations will present their progress in Dubai in December. Nearly all of them will miss their targets.
However, about 17 rainforest nations are almost carbon neutral, and some are close to carbon negativity — the highest calling under the Paris Agreement. Therefore, they could potentially sell carbon offsets to those that can’t meet their targets.
According to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, Belize, Central African Republic, Congo, Gabon, Madagascar, Nambia and Suriname are among the countries that are net carbon removers.
Governments set emissions limits, and those that exceed them can sell credits to those unable to do so. As the ceiling lowers, carbon-dioxide levels fall. Countries must prioritize renewables. But they will miss their net-zero targets if they don’t buy credits.
That motivates those rainforest nations to keep their trees standing and not use them for lumber or farming — if the credits sell for high enough prices.
“If you embrace the renewable energy transition, you have cheap electricity. Then you can start electrifying heating and transport,” said Tim Lenton, director of the Global Systems Institute at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom. “That tipping point is here and now. Paris-approved carbon credits are part of the solution but should not be the first priority.”
Limiting temperature increases is paramount, achieved by rainforest preservation and adding renewables. Actually, renewables turned out to be this summer’s blockbuster hit. But the global community must quicken the pace to keep Paris alive. If not, the wild weather patterns will keep occurring — ultimately costing more than front-end climate investments.