Guest: Jesse Jenkins | Assistant Professor | Princeton University
Category: 💬 Opinion | Decarbonization
Podcast’s Essential Bites:
[5:55] JJ: "The challenge today is that about 2/3 of our demand for energy in the United States is for liquid and gaseous hydrocarbons. So that's natural gas that we use to heat our homes, gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, other liquid petroleum based fuels and then the petrochemical feedstocks that we use to produce plastics and medicine and all kinds of other things. And it's just really difficult to find drop in substitutes for those kinds of liquids and gaseous fuels at the scale that we consume them. And so the only way that we're going to get to net zero is to knock down the scale of demand for liquid and gaseous fuels. That means growing the role of electricity, and steam, and hydrogen, and other carbon free energy carriers that don't actually contain any CO2 when we use them."
[12:41] JJ: "We have to dramatically expand the supply of overall electricity to power electric cars and to power heat pumps that can efficiently heat and cool our homes instead of relying on natural gas, or to power industrial processes, or make clean hydrogen, which is another option for an energy carrier when we can't use electricity directly. And so our estimates are that demand for electricity by 2050 in the United States could grow by more than double, by about 115 to 170% across a range of different scenarios in the Net-Zero America study. [...] And what that means is we have to basically build two US power grids over the next 30 years."
[16:28] JJ: "The total area around all of the wind turbines that make up a wind farm [...] [in] the most cost effective of our net zero scenarios, spans an area that is equal to Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee put together. And the solar farms are an area the size of Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. [...] There is a more land efficient scenario that uses about half that much land area. But in order to unlock that scenario, we have to build a very large amount of new nuclear power plants, or natural gas plants, carbon capture, or advanced geothermal, other more energy dense or compact technologies that are generally more expensive and less mature today. [...] And there's some scenario that actually is double that. If we want to go entirely renewable, we want to completely get rid of fossil fuels in any way and don't use any carbon capture or continue to emit any CO2 and use negative emissions from fossil fuels."
[28:28] JJ: "If I sum up the whole [Inflation Reduction Act] bill in one nutshell, or one tweet, it's that we're going to tax billionaire corporations and tax cheats, and use that money to make energy cheaper and cleaner for all Americans, and also to build more of those technologies here in the United States."
[38:57] JJ: "The inflation Reduction Act is insufficient. It's a huge step forward, but our estimation [...] is that it cuts about 2/3 of the annual emissions gap that we need to close in 2030. It still leaves about a half a billion tons of emissions on the table that we need to tackle with additional policies. And that's just 2030. We still have to go all the way from there to net zero in 2050. And that, of course, it's assuming that we can build transmission and wind and solar at the pace that makes economic sense. So if we can't do that, we're going to fall even further short."
[47:17] JJ: "What we need to build is an effective energy system that consists of a team of different roles. And we break it down in our research into basically three key roles. The first is the one that wind and solar fill and other weather dependent, variable renewable resources. And we call those fuel saving resources. [...] You can't count on when the wind is gonna blow, but when you have it, you can stop using some other more expensive fuel consuming resource, like a natural gas power plant or a coal plant. And also avoid the pollution and climate warming gasses that go along with using those power plants. And so the role of wind and solar is effectively to displace the fuel consumption of other potentially more dependable resources in the grid. Maybe not necessarily to shut down the power plant as a whole, but to use it less and less."
[48:37] JJ: "We need a second key role, which we call fast burst or balancing resources. And that's where batteries, battery energy storage, as well as smart charging of electric vehicles, or other ways to flexibly move around when we consume electricity. [...] All of those forms can give us short bursts of flexibility that can help better align supply and demand with those variable demand and variable wind and solar resources. The problem with those is that you can't really sustain their output for a long period of time."
[49:52] JJ: "The third category are firm resources [...]. And so today we rely on natural gas and coal and our existing nuclear fleet for that firm role. But if we want to build a clean energy system, and we need all that new clean electricity, we're going to need to build about an equivalent amount as we have coal and gas plants today of clean firm options, whether that's new nuclear power plants, advanced geothermal, or similar options."
[59:56] JJ: "CO2 is a waste product that we are trying to dispose of. And so unless there's a real economic value stream there for someone to capture that CO2 and do something with it, it's just not going to happen anywhere near the scale that we're talking about. That's where again the inflation Reduction Act comes in. It increases a tax credit for capturing CO2 and storing it to $85 per ton, up from a $50 per ton credit in place now. And we think that's going to help the industry get off the ground in a variety of different sectors, including some of our most heavily emitting industries like cement, and steel production."
[1:09:51] JJ: "We don't need carbon capture at scale this decade. The things that are going to do all of the emissions reduction work, really the bulk of it, are technologies that we bet on a decade ago and are ready to scale now. What we need to do over this next decade is to repeat that same kind of success that we had for wind and solar and batteries with the full portfolio of options that we think we might need at scale in the 2030s and 2040s. And that includes carbon capture, that includes nuclear, that includes advanced geothermal that includes all different ways to produce hydrogen, which is a critical energy carrier in the long run."
[1:25:58] JJ: "To make good on the billion tonne reduction in emissions in 2030, that we think the Inflation Reduction Act could deliver, we need to basically more than double the pace of transmission expansion that we've seen over the last decade. We need to grow and expand the amount of transmission capacity by a little over 2% per year to deploy all the wind and solar that we see in our modeling and to get that power to where we consume it. And over the last decade, we've expanded the transmission grid at about 1% per year. [...] If we look back to the eras when electricity demand was growing, from the 1970s to about 2005, when we started to see electricity demand flatline, we expanded the grid by about 2% per year historically. [...] We have to basically get back on the same track that we were in the last era when the grid was expanding."
Report: "Net-Zero America" (Princeton University, 2020)