That said, he adds that it’s not a permanent fix. A future network running whole renewables needs to be more flexible, as operators cannot burn fossil fuels to fill temporary gaps between energy demand and production. (For example, at night during a heat wave, people can use many air conditioners, but there would be no sun to power them.) That means rebuilding infrastructure to carry sustainable energy over long distances. “In the long run, however, there is no alternative: we have to upgrade the transmission,” he says.
EVs could also prove to be valuable assets for smoothing power supply and demand by forming a distributed network of automotive batteries that — along with solar panels for the home — grid operators can use when needed. “If we could use the batteries of electric vehicles or batteries in homes, for example, or if we could operate the roof, [photovoltaics] of a range of customers and having them coordinate to provide a particular service in support of our transmission network, that would definitely help in dealing with intermittent conditions,” said Patricia Hidalgo-Gonzalez, director of the Renewable Energy and Advanced Mathematics Laboratory at UC San Diego and was not involved with the new newspaper. “That could drastically reduce stress in the grid as we have more and more renewable energy sources.”
The studies agreed on two more points: the economic and health benefits of decarbonization. Every step of the fossil fuel life cycle, from extraction to processing to combustion, is terrible for the human body. “There are huge non-economic benefits,” Abhyankar says of the clean energy transition. “What we found is that this transition could also prevent more than 200,000 premature deaths, and more than $800 billion to a trillion dollars in other health problems. [costs]† For example, as more cars go electric, air quality will improve, reducing the number of people with respiratory diseases.
The final point of agreement between the studies reviewed by Abhyankar and his colleagues is that it is not costs that will hold back the deployment of renewables, batteries and EVs. “The main point is, the cost won’t be very high,” Abhyankar says. “Some studies have even shown that it can lead to significant savings for consumers.” For example, while installing solar panels on a home can be a costly upgrade, especially without a significant tax cut, it will save the homeowner money in the long run.
Instead, the stumbling block is the policies needed to deploy them on a larger scale. Although Democrats currently control Congress and the White House, they have struggled to pass substantial climate legislation. Among other things, the Build Back Better program is said to have boosted the production of renewable technology in the US other climate benefitsbut Senator Joe Manchin from West Virginia torpedoed it† “It’s absolutely no surprise that we are far from on track to meet our goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by about half by 2030,” said environmental economist Mark Paul of the New College of Florida. “I think everyone in the climate and policy community is well aware that we are definitely going beyond those targets, unless we have massive action in Washington.”
And everywhere, for that matter. For example, states could require more of their power generation to come from renewables, while the federal government could give more tax refunds for people to buy EVs and cities could invest in charging stations for them, especially in lower-income neighborhoods.
Another bottleneck, Paul says, is the lack of a skilled workforce to deploy and maintain solar and wind systems, and energy-saving home technologies such as heat pumps. Government investment in vocational schools can boost this workforce. “This actually presents a pretty big economic opportunity to revive the struggling American working class,” Paul says. “We just need policies to steer the ship in the right direction and make sure this transition happens as quickly as possible.”