The U.S. may be closer to reaching a net-zero nation than previously believed. Princeton University experts say all it takes is the total electrification of the country’s energy use. University scholars released a 345-page study on Tuesday, compiling the work of 18 environmental research experts. 'Net-Zero’ America outlines ambitious scenarios on how to completely cut greenhouse emissions across the country.
The study details a combination of changes needed by 2030 to ensure the U.S. stays on track to become a net-zero nation by 2050, meaning the nation’s remaining greenhouse gas emissions will be offset by forests, agriculture or direction suction of carbon from the air.
Most solutions focus on a complete shift in the energy infrastructure — something President-elect Joe Biden has announced his public support of on numerous occasions.
The research shows that the biggest leaps of progress could be seen through subtle — and doable — changes. A small request that would result in a big payoff, for example, is the use of alternative energy solutions: wind turbines, solar panels, nuclear waste, heat pumps and electric cars.
While it seems reachable, the changes would need to be implemented immediately at a national level to be effective.
At the bare minimum, the U.S. would need to add 50 million electric vehicles, increase the number of wind turbines and solar panels by quadruple the amount and expand the transmission infrastructure by 60% within the next 10 years to lay out a successful groundwork for the 20 years that follow.
A major concern identified in the report is the lack of support in this area by the time needed.
From there, the solutions become even more difficult and create even more — and greater — concerns.
For instance, much of the economy still relies on the oil and gas industry, and there aren’t obvious solutions as to what the transition will look like. The study did acknowledge some plausible solutions but most require the use of technologies that are still in the early development phases.
Either the technologies would need to be rushed and developed at a quicker rate, or the transition will need to happen at a slower pace — dangerous to the transition and at the expense of human lives and resources.
The big concerns researchers face here are with potential conflicts over land use between the nonrenewable and renewable energy sectors. If policymakers decided to use renewable energy, it would need twice the amount of land currently used and require compliance from the oil and gas industry.
Another major concern is whether the government is willing to commit to this expenditure, despite that, in all scenarios mentioned, energy costs would remain smaller as a share of the economy than they have been the past two decades with a similar price tag. Researchers have estimated the cost at $2.5 trillion by 2030, paired with the more than half-a-million new jobs created and tens of thousands lives saved.
While the report is mostly encouraging about the feasibility and the cost-effectiveness of it, but there are still several hurdles to overcome before getting there.
The scale of transformation is so significant, it will require solidarity across the nation before such a landmark project can be achieved.