- Electric vehicles are a crucial pathway to carbon neutrality.
- Electric jets are to arrive soon as a manifestation of climate change.
- New ways to fuel its transport sector and generate cleaner energy are on the charts for society.
Suppose the global community is to avert a climate breakdown. It means using less oil and coal and more wind and solar energy — the electrification of the global economy. But fossil fuels now supply 80% of the world’s energy and will continue to play a part in ensuring an orderly and reliable transition. But we have more to fear from climate change than we do from the electrification age.
An Electrifying Change
“I think that this will scare people, and it will shock people how fast this (energy transition) is coming but we’ve got to get ahead,” says Jigar Shah, director of the loans program office at the U.S. Department of Energy. Shah’s comments came during a webcast hosted by the United States Energy Association in which this reporter asked questions. His office’s job is to evaluate promising technologies and provide the initial funds they need to take off. The Energy Department’s loan office started with $40 billion, and the Inflation Reduction Act added $100 billion. About half of that money will be targeted to renewable energy and alternatively-fueled vehicles, while the other half will go to carbon capture projects and advanced nuclear designs.
The Energy Department’s most illustrious loan came in 2010 to an upstart called Tesla Motors for $465 million. Importantly, a loan guarantee is not a subsidy. It gets projects off the ground and helps entice Wall Street to invest. The Energy Department had previously awarded $30 billion to 42 alternative energy deals, which returned the principal plus $500 million in interest payments to taxpayers.
‘Look It’s An Electric Plane !’
Electric transportation is transforming surface vehicles. In 2020, there were 48 models, and by 2024, there will be 134. Air travel is a potential market — assisted, in part, by the auto companies. Shah says that aircraft makers have submitted four applications to pursue electric planes, which will be used in tandem with jet fuel to make short flights. “We haven’t fully evaluated the applications yet, but there’s a lot of interest in electric aircraft,” says Shah.
Take Air Canada, which aims to be net zero by 2050 has ordered 30 hybrid aircraft from Heart Aerospace — a plane called ES-30. The plane has an all-electric range of 124 miles — double that if combined with jet fuel. It flies at an altitude of 20,000 feet. The plane will fly to and from regional airports and hold 30 passengers. Four electric motors power the plane, using lithium-ion batteries and two turbo generators that can run on sustainable aviation fuels. It has a charging time of 30 to 50 minutes.
“Commercial aviation accounts for about 2%-3% of all global carbon emissions. Air Canada monitors its GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions closely and is committed to mitigating its environmental footprint,” the company says.
The Road To Net Zero
Electrification is critical to transportation. But it is also vital to power generation, affecting emission levels and energy costs. Electricity now makes up 20% of all end-use energy consumption in this country. By 2050, however, that could rise to 60% — a number that could cut transportation costs by at least 10%, says the Electric Power Research Institute. Electrification benefits low-carbon fuels and technologies. That includes renewable energy, which has jumped by 250,000 megawatts over the last decade. But it will also lead to the production of more green hydrogen from wind and solar power.
It’s healthy for the economy too. The United States has reduced its annual energy-related CO2 releases by about 1 billion tons since 2005. That represents a 14% reduction even as the U.S. economy grew by 28%. In other words, economic expansion does not need to equate to greater pollution levels. “Electrification is happening in various forms, and we are going to need more electricity, not less as we go forward,” says Jim Matheson, chief executive officer of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.
If the goal is carbon neutrality, then the solution is the electrification of the economy. The shift to electric vehicles and potentially electric aircraft for shorter flights highlights the momentum. Notably, the energy transition also includes electric generation, requiring natural gas and battery storage to ensure the lights stay on. With that, the roadmap to net zero is clear — super-charged investment and innovation in promising technologies.
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